Top 10 Prospects (2019): Washington Nationals: Trying To Find Value Beyond The Elite

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by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Obviously when you graduate a prospect like Juan Soto to the Majors your system is going to take a hit. That said, after consistently battling for division titles and playoff runs the Nationals’ system after the top few names has significant questions and questionable upside. Obviously things get bolstered by the presence of Victor Robles, but with him too likely graduating the focus needs to be on the rest of the system. Is there any value/upside? Let’s take a look:

1) Victor Robles – Outfielder
Grade – A
ETA – Already Arrived

An early season injury cost Robles the opportunity to assume a regular spot in the Washington outfield, as he was leapfrogged by Juan Soto when a job opened up.  It ultimately was a disappointing season for Robles, as he hit .276 with 2 HR and 19 SB over 192 AB in the minors and .288 with 3 HR and 3 SB over 59 AB in the Majors.  That said, even then he showed off the skills that place him among the elite prospects in the game.

The speed is obvious and it’s his best tool as of today.  That said he added 13 doubles and 2 triples overall, showing off the potential for his power to grow, and his 6.8% SwStr%, 14.2% strikeout rate and 11.5% walk rate in the minors show off a strong approach at the plate.  He has the potential to put it all together quickly and should get an opportunity to truly emerge in 2019.  A year after Juan Soto challenged for the NL Rookie of the Year (finishing second to Ronald Acuna), Robles should be in a similar spot by year’s end.

2) Carter Kieboom – Shortstop
Grade – B+
ETA – 2020

Kieboom split time between High-A (245 AB) and Double-A (248 AB), hitting .280 with 16 HR and 9 SB.  He showed an ability to draw a walk (10.4%) and a 19.5% strikeout rate is reasonable, though his overall 10.2% SwStr% is something worth monitoring.  Unsurprisingly all of the numbers took a step backward after his promotion:

  • Strikeout Rate – 21.6%
  • Walk Rate – 8.1%
  • SwStr% – 10.4%

The former first round pick didn’t turn 21 until September, so it’s easy to give him a little bit of a pass.  He may not have the elite talent of others, but having added 31 doubles and 1 triple it appears that he has the upside of being a 20/10 type player at the highest level.

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3) Luis Garcia – Shortstop
Grade – B
ETA – 2021

Garcia turned 18-years old in May, making the results all the more impressive:

  • Single-A (323 PA) – .297, 3 HR, 8 SB
  • High-A (221 PA) – .299, 4 HR, 4 SB

Obviously the skills in terms of HR/SB aren’t quite there yet, but obviously he has plenty of time to continue to develop and mature.  He needs to learn to take more walks (5.7% walk rate), for example, but he has the potential to develop into a 15/15 middle infielder before long.

4) Mason Denaburg – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B-
ETA – 2022

Denaburg is a bit of a mystery, after a biceps injury caused him to fall in the draft to 27th in the first round.  He ultimately didn’t pitch for the Nationals in ’18 and there’s no real certainty that he’s healthy now.  Could there be a more serious issue that hasn’t come out yet?  Is he ready to show his stuff?  We’ll have to wait and see, but reports have him with a big fastball and significant upside overall.  Obviously he was selected in the first round, and signed to an over slot bonus, for a reason.

5) Sterling Sharp – Right-Handed Pitcher
Grade – B-
ETA – 2019

The little known prospect split time between High-A and Double-A in ’18, and while the actual numbers may not impress you (3.70 ERA, 6.37 K/9) as you start looking at the underlying marks your eyes begin to open:

  • Control – 2.85 BB/9
  • Swing Strikes – 11.8%
  • Groundballs – 59.0%

His upside may not be that of an elite starter, but with his groundball stuff and room to continue developing there’s every reason to believe he could emerge as a valuable piece of an MLB rotation.

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The Rest:

6) Wil Crowe – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+)
Crowe looked like he was well on his way to emerging while pitching at High-A, but a horrific five start stretch at Double-A put a little bit of a damper on his overall outlook:

  • High-A – 2.69 ERA, 8.07 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 45.9% groundball rate
  • Double-A – 6.15 ERA, 5.13 K/9, 5.47 BB/9, 42.4% groundball rate

Are we really going to draw any conclusions off of 26.1 innings of work?  Let’s not forget that he had a 13.8% SwStr% while at High-A, though with reports questioning his true stuff it may not be have been a big surprise that he took a significant step backwards.  That’s not to say that there isn’t upside and value, but there also are significant questions.

7) Yasel Antuna – Shortstop/Third Baseman (Grade – C+)
This one is a bit of a projection as Antuna struggled during his aggressive placement at Single-A, where he played the year as an 18-year old.  He struggled hitting .220 with 6 HR and 8 SB, though his season ended prematurely due to Tommy John surgery (and you have to wonder if there was an injury that hampered him early in the season).  Let’s not forget that it wasn’t long ago that the Nationals signed him for $3.8 million, he just needs to get healthy and be given the time to develop.

8) Seth Romero – Left-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C+)
A first round pick in 2017, there were already concerns about his maturity/makeup even before he was suspended for a violation of team’s rules.  When he did return he ultimately was lost due to Tommy John surgery, which will also wipe away his 2019.  Obviously there is still some potential for those willing to wait, but he has a long road ahead.

9) Jake Irvin – Right-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C)
A fourth round pick in 2018 out of college, Irvin could potentially move quickly through the system.  Reports have the 6’6” righty having strong control, which is a nice positive, and it’s possible that the stuff continues to evolve.  The upside may not elite, but there’s the potential to be more than just a backend starter as he showed both swing and miss stuff (14.7% SwStr%) and groundball ability (55.9%) in his first 20.2 innings as a professional.

10) Tim Cate – Left-Handed Pitcher (Grade – C)
Sure he posted a 5.02 ERA over 52.0 IP last season, but he pitched most of the season as a 20-year old and showed some control (2.77 BB/9) and ability to miss bats (10.7% SwStr%).  It’s possible he ultimately ends up coming out of the bullpen, thanks to his size (6’0”) and potential to be homer prone.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com, Baseball Reference

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Make sure to check out all of our 2019 Top 10 Prospect Lists:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

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