Any team that is coming off a World Series title runs the risk of having dipped into their prospect pool in order to push for a title. The Nationals are no different, though they retained their top prospect and have a slew of intriguing pitching prospects who could develop into viable Major Leaguers. Who has the highest upside? Who could make an impact as soon as 2020? Let’s take a look:
1) Carter Kieboom – Shortstop
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – A-
It would be easy to be down on Kieboom after his disastrous MLB debut, hitting .128 with a 37.2% strikeout rate over 43 PA. Of course even while he struggled he showed a strong approach (despite the strikeout rate):
- SwStr% – 9.3%
- O-Swing% – 24.2%
He also posted a 9.0% SwStr% over 494 PA at Triple-A, even in a small sample size the approach was believable, which led to a 20.2% strikeout rate and 13.8% walk rate. He hit 16 HR at Triple-A, though with 24 double and 3 triples it’s easy to envision his power growing (especially with the approach). During his brief time in the Majors he hit the ball hard (43.5%) and he simply needs more of a look to settle in and thrive. That should come in 2020.
2) Luis Garcia – Shortstop
ETA – 2021
Grade – B+
The Nationals have been aggressive with Garcia, and that didn’t change in ’19 as he played the year at Double-A as a 19-yard old (he’ll turn 20 in May). He held his own, hitting .280 with 4 HR and 11 SB over 525 AB. He posted a meager 3.1% walk rate and also struggled with swings and misses (12.2% SwStr%), and those are things that could hurt him as he continues to advance.
Of course his age and the competition level have to be taken into account, so you have to wonder if he’d be best served to have his ascent slowed. He needs to mature and hone is approach, because he has the potential to develop into a 20/20 middle infield prospect. The fear is that he can’t reel in his aggressiveness if he continues to be pushed so hard, so time will tell.
3) Jackson Rutledge – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2021
Grade – B+
Selected 17th overall in 2019, Rutledge pairs a big fastball (with reports having to hit 101 mph) with a “plus” slider as well as a curveball and changeup (all of which have the potential to be plus pitches or better). That’s the type of repertoire that we are always looking for from a top arm, and standing at 6’8” and 260 lbs. it plays up that much more. While his control is still a work in progress, that’s always to be expected for a pitcher of his size. With time and development he could figure it out and turn into one of the few elite pitching prospects.
It was only 37.1 IP last season in the minors, but his 9.40 K/9 and 15.2% SwStr% are impressive. There’s risk with any pitching prospect, but at the very least Rutledge should be a back of the bullpen arm. If the control develops, the combination of size and stuff could lead to a Top 20 starting pitcher.
4) Sterling Sharp – Right-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2020
Grade – B
Sharp doesn’t get much attention, but the skillset makes him an intriguing arm with the potential to develop in short order. While an oblique injury ended his season after just 58.2 innings, the underlying skills were impressive:
- Strikeouts – 7.98 K/9
- Walks – 2.30 BB/9
- Groundballs – 64.7%
The fact that he pairs an extreme groundball rate with an ability to miss bats (13.8% SwStr%) shows just how high his ceiling is. Listed at 6’3” and 170 lbs there’s still room for further growth/development, though he’s already 24-years old so that’s not a given. Even as is the upside potential is clearly there. You don’t find pitchers with the ability to generate this many groundballs often, and pairing it with the swing and miss stuff as well as control (95 BB over 378.1 career innings) shows just how good he could be.
5) Tim Cate – Left-Handed Pitcher
ETA – 2021
Grade – B-
Cate may not have overpowering stuff, but he’s a control lefty who knows how to use it:
- Strikeouts – 8.71 K/9 (10.6% SwStr%)
- Control – 2.00 BB/9
- Groundballs – 56.3%
It will be interesting to see how far the strikeout rate falls as he advances, as he already watched his strikeout rate regress after being promoted from Single-A (9.34 K/9) to High-A (8.10 K/9). He did maintain the SwStr% (10.3% at High-A), which is promising, but his ceiling in that regard isn’t particularly high. It’s what keeps his ranking down, but he has the potential to be a solid back of the rotation option at the highest level.
The Next Five:
6) Mason Denaburg (RHP; Current Grade – B-) – A biceps injury caused him to drop in the 2018 draft, with the Nationals more than willing to take the gamble at #27. He still has only thrown 20.1 innings in professional baseball, so it’s hard to get a good read into exactly how high the upside is (especially since he posted a 7.52 ERA over those innings). The stuff is there for him to emerge, as there was a reason that he was on the map as a first round draft pick. He needs to show it, however, and this will be a key year in terms of it.
7) Wil Crowe (RHP; Current Grade – C+) – While he pitched well at Double-A (3.87 ERA over 95.1 IP) he struggled in his first taste of Triple-A (6.17 ERA over 54.0 IP). He had a similar experience in five starts at Double-A in ’18, so it’s possible that he simply needs to get his feet under him at the level before figuring it out. Still it’s a concern, and it’s possible he ultimately settles into a relief role if he continues to struggle. A strong start will lead to an opportunity in the Majors this season, so he belongs on radars.
8) Yasel Antuna (2B/SS; Current Grade – C) – To an extent he gets a bit of an “incomplete”, as he missed the bulk of 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. A highly regarded international signing in 2016, he appeared to be on the Nationals’ “aggressive” path, though the slowed development may not be the worst thing. He will be facing more age appropriate competition, and if he proves he’s healthy he has the potential to soar up the rankings.
9) Andry Lara (RHP; Grade – C) – This is an extreme risk, as Lara was just signed as a 16-year old, but he did receive a $1.2 million bonus for a reason. Already listed at 6’4”, there’s room for development both physically and with his stuff (his fastball already reportedly touches 95 mph). He’s a long ways off, but will make his professional debut in 2020 and could find himself emerging on prospect lists in short order.
10) Drew Mendoza (3B, Grade – C-) – A 2019 third round selection, there’s a lot of power potential in his 6’5” frame. However a 13.5% SwStr% at Single-A, as a 21-year old, is a significant concern. That number could increase as he advances, and that may mean he’s a Joey Gallo type (without the elite power). That’s not a good combination, and in other systems he wouldn’t be considered as a Top 10 option.
Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com
Make sure to check out all of our 2020 prospect rankings: