Top 2020 Prospects: Washington Nationals

Thanks to years of top-left acculturation, I planned to write about the NL East first, so it’s pure chance that we’re looking at the Washington Nationals the week they’re playing the World Series.

In other news, we’ll be covering the Houston Astros next.

Or the Yankees

Then back to the NL East, where I’m getting the Nats’ potential sadness out of the way before the Series just in case the balls bounce against them.

And it’s not so sad: one off-season with a weak minor league system–a totally acceptable outcome the year your team makes the final game, especially if you’re already seeing Juan Soto and Victor Robles under the big lights. Still, this system is not fun. This will not be the kind of article one reads to console oneself after a bad beat in game seven. 

Someone will be ranked fifth, and sixth, and whatnot, but that’s about the best we can say, so let’s go ahead and do the rankings even if it is something of a soul-siphoning endeavor. 

But keep in mind: this front office has a strong track record for finding and developing elite talent. Even if you don’t love anyone on this list, someone in the Washington brain trust probably does, and they’ve been doing pretty well for themselves. Might even be the most honorable organization in D.C., what with the promoting of prospects when they’re ready or needed–not when they’re maximally price-suppressed. I think that’s an underrated motivator for everyone involved–from scouts to coaches to players to mascots. 

Well, everyone but the mascots. I weep for the mascots. But not for the Nationals: a fun success story in the first year A.H. (After Harper)

Format = Player | Age on 4/1/2020 | Highest level played | ETA

1. SS Carter Kieboom | 22 | MLB | Early 2020

If Kieboom’s fantasy value ever matches his perceived value in the dynasty prospecting realm, I will have been wrong about him. Here’s what I said in the Top 25 Prospects for 2020 Fantasy Baseball.

 

2. RHP Jackson Rutledge | 21 | A | Late 2021

3. SS Luis Garcia | 19 | AA | Late 2022

To better understand Rutledge, we look to that great 20th century wordsmith, Montell Jordan, “All they said was 6’8” he stood. Some people thought the music that he made was good.”

When GM Mike Rizzo saw Rutledge on the board at pick 17 in the first round, he turned to his scouting department and said, “Man I’m buzzing because this how we do it!” 

Rutledge has rewarded that groove in Rizzo’s heart by dominating the South Atlantic League (0.91 WHIP across 27.1 innings), where he was 1.8 years younger than the average age of his competitors. 

For a while, I felt alone sitting outside the Luis Garcia camp. I could hear the party sounds and occasional keg-stand chants, but the tools just weren’t loud enough to pull me in. He’s still so young that I’m not out forever—just think the echo chamber got ahead of itself on this one, and I’m no longer so lonely in that opinion.

 

4. SS Viandel Peña | 19 | R | 2024

5. OF Jeremy De La Rosa | 18 | R | 2024

Cool name of the week goes to Viandel Peña, whose middle name is Alexis. We don’t often dream on 5’8” infielders, but Peña smoked the Gulf Coast League (.359/.455/.481) despite playing against guys who were 1.4 years older than him on average. I suppose it goes without saying that he’s got a compact swing and a small strike zone, but he’s also got enough quick-twitch athleticism to be a fun follow. 

Jeremy De La Rosa was jumped straight to the Gulf Coast League, where he was 2.4 years younger than the average player but posted a 108 wRC+. I first heard about De La Rosa on the Prospects Live podcast, thanks to Eddy Almaguer adding him in dynasty leagues long before his first affiliated at bat.

 

6. RHP Sterling Sharp | 24 | AA | Late 2020

7. LHP Tim Cate | 22 | A+ | Mid 2021

8. RHP Wil Crowe | 25 | AAA | Mid 2020 

9. LHP Matt Cronin | 22 | A | Early 2021

10. 2B Cole Freeman | 25 | A+ | Late 2021

11. 1B Drew Mendoza | 22 | A | 2023

The timeline I’m using for Sharp is aggressive, but he’s cruising through fall ball (1.00 WHIP in 19 innings) after pitching well in AA, allowing just 0.18 HR/9 across 49.2 innings

A 2nd round pick in 2018, Tim Cate split 143.2 innings evenly between two levels this season, acing A-ball and passing high-A to set himself up for AA in 2020. He might already be useful as a bullpen piece late next year thanks to a plus-plus curveball and functional command of his fastball and change-up. I think he’s much more likely to spend all year in the minors and be developed as a starter, but it’s a mark in his favor that he could be accelerated if the need arises. 

As stated in the intro, there’s not much to Crowe about in this system, which pushes a high-probability, low-ceiling arm like Wil up the list. (Apologies for the low-ceiling pun). 

Matt Cronin is the all-time saves leader in Arkansas college baseball history and hit the ground running after being picked in the fourth round this summer. His 48.2% K-rate in 22 A-ball innings provides a good look at how tough the three-pitch lefty with a double plus fastball can be on professional hitters. 

The lefty closer stigma is all but behind us now with bullpen roles becoming more fluid in general, and Cronin has an inside lane toward becoming a final-out factor as soon as 2021. 

Try-hard guys like Cole Freeman get faded in some circles, but Washington seems to go the other way, valuing the sum outcomes over the glitz of loud tools. Freeman doesn’t have much thump at 5’9”, but he’s got plenty of defense, speed and hit-tool to be a solid utility piece. 

Drew Mendoza is 6’5” with big power potential. The Nats took him in the third round this summer and sent him straight to the South Atlantic League, where he played a 128 wRC+.

 

Radio Flier: 

1B Leandro Emiliani | 20 | R | 2024

Present strength and plus patience allowed Emiliani to take a victory lap in his return to the Gulf Coast League. His 175 wRC+ has to be discounted a little because of the repeat, but he can pour some rocket fuel in his stock if he starts hot in full season ball this year. 

He’s certainly got the Soto stance on lock down:

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