When the Nationals changed their course and decided to sell at the trade deadline, their farm system was spread about as thin as any minor league system in baseball. So they did what any team hoping to give its young ranks a boost would do: trade for top Dodgers prospects.
Los Angeles has produced a steady pipeline of talent for the better part of the last decade. Despite winning the NL West each of the last eight years, the Dodgers have continued to maintain one of the deepest farm systems in the sport. Since 2014, they’ve produced seven All-Stars spanning from Yasiel Puig and Dee Gordon to Walker Buehler and Cody Bellinger.
The player the Nationals honed in on was Keibert Ruiz. A 23-year-old catcher out of Venezuela, Ruiz was the top prospect in the Dodgers’ system. It took both Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to get him, but the Nationals went all in on their retool and made the deal to nab Ruiz as well as the Dodgers’ No. 2 prospect Josiah Gray, outfielder Donovan Casey and starter Gerardo Carrillo.
No longer blocked by a deep major league roster equipped for a playoff run, Ruiz is looking forward to his call-up to D.C. where an opportunity awaits for him to prove he can stick in the bigs.
“A lot of young players, a lot of new players, a new team, it’s exciting,” Ruiz said in a press conference Friday. “I’m gonna be part of that, too, just trying to help the team win whenever I am in the big leagues and I know it’s gonna be fun [playing with] a lot of young players.”
After collecting four hits for the Rochester Red Wings on Thursday, Ruiz raised his OPS on the season to .965 with 17 home runs in 64 games for the Dodgers’ and Nationals’ Triple-A affiliates. He’s not the only former Dodgers prospect showing encouraging signs, either. Gray boasts a 2.86 ERA over his first four starts in a Nationals uniform. Casey hit .347 over his first 12 games for Double-A Harrisburg and earned a promotion to Rochester.
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Casey is a New Jersey native that’s spent the last four years in the Dodgers’ system. He already faced a tough road to the majors as a 20th round pick, but even more so because Los Angeles has outfielders Bellinger, Mookie Betts and AJ Pollock all signed through at least next year. In D.C., Juan Soto is the only outfielder locked into a starting spot long term.
“Just moving around, I’m just honestly excited to be here,” Casey said Friday. “That’s all it really is. It’s a lot more opportunity and I’m just playing baseball every day so that’s all I’m really happy about.”
As the Nationals embark on a retool that’s likely to keep them out of the playoff race in 2022, players such as Ruiz, Gray and Casey will get the chance to face major league opponents on a regular basis. Winning might not be the immediate result, but the former Dodgers prospects don’t have to worry about fitting into an established winning ballclub anymore. Now, they can establish one themselves.