The Nationals entered the 2020 MLB Draft with one of the lowest-rated farm systems in baseball. After years of contending for the playoffs and sacrificing future talent for win-now moves, Washington’s minor-league depth is as depleted as it’s ever been since the club moved to D.C. in 2005.
No amount of success in the draft was going to change the overall outlook of their farm system, but the Nationals still put together a strong 2020 class that helped shake up their top 15 prospects list.
Here’s an updated look at their prospect rankings following the 2020 MLB Draft.
1. SS/3B Carter Kieboom (Age: 22, ETA: 2020)
Kieboom took over the top spot of the Nationals’ farm system in 2019 after center fielder Victor Robles graduated to the major leagues. The 22-year-old infielder doesn’t have that kind of upside, but he still entered this season as a consensus top-21 overall prospect in the minors.
A natural shortstop, Kieboom moved over to third base last year in order to fit into the Nationals’ plans as the potential successor to Anthony Rendon. He had the opportunity to try out for the starting job in spring training and while he could still conceivably win the spot once camp resumes, his struggles both at the plate and in the field suggest he’ll start the year on the bench for Washington.
2. SS/2B Luis Garcia (Age: 20, ETA: 2021)
If anyone was impressive at the plate during spring training before the coronavirus pandemic shut camp down, it was the young Dominican infielder. Garcia hit .417 in 27 plate appearances of Grapefruit League play, flashing potential that suggested he might be ready for the majors earlier than expected.
There is still plenty of room for Garcia to develop, particularly in the power department. He spent the 2019 season in Double-A Harrisburg, where he posted a .617 OPS with just four home runs in 129 games. It was a step back after posting strong numbers in Single-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, making the loss of a minor-league campaign in 2020 a costly one for Garcia and the Nationals.
3. RHP Jackson Rutledge (Age: 21, ETA: 2022)
A tried and true formula for Washington, Rutledge fell to the Nationals at No. 17 overall in the 2019 draft after a sketchy injury history that included right hip surgery scared teams away from taking him earlier. The Nationals couldn’t have been happier to land the junior-college product, who posted an 0.87 ERA with 134 strikeouts over 82 2/3 innings at San Jacinto in Texas.
Rutledge has since rewarded the Nationals’ selection by rocketing up to Single-A Hagerstown in his first professional season and impressing by all accounts. His next campaign will be his first opportunity to pitch a full season in the minors. If he can prove his health problems are behind him, the major leagues won’t be too far ahead.
4. RHP Wil Crowe (Age: 25, ETA: 2020)
Though he has yet to be added to the club’s 40-man roster, Crowe is as close the majors as any pitcher in the Nationals’ farm system. He split last season between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Fresno and while his numbers at the latter were anything but spectacular (6.17 ERA in 10 starts), the Nationals should still feel good after he made progress in AA.
A likely candidate to be added to Washington’s 60-man player pool for this season, Crowe is a groundball pitcher with a four-pitch mix that includes a mid-90s fastball. FanGraphs compared him to former Nationals starter Tanner Roark with a ceiling of being a middle-of-the-rotation starter and floor of settling for the bullpen depending on his ability to locate his pitches.
5. RHP Mason Denaburg (Age: 21 on Aug. 8, ETA: 2023)
Another top draft talent with an injury history, Denaburg has only thrown 20 1/3 innings since being taken with the No. 27 overall pick in 2018. His 2019 campaign only saw him reach rookie ball before he was shut down by season-ending shoulder surgery.
Denaburg still has the potential to be a front-line starter, boasting a fastball that touches 98 and curveball that projects to be elite by the time he reaches the majors. His development has been slowed by his health issues and the hype around him has subsided as a result, but the Nationals still have plenty of reasons to be excited about the young right-hander if he can stay on the field.
6. RHP Cade Cavalli (Age: 22 on Aug. 14, ETA: 2022)
Cavalli cracks the sixth spot on the Nationals’ top prospects list after the team made him its first-round pick in the 2020 draft. Built like a linebacker at 6-foot-4, 226 pounds, Cavalli has the potential to be fast-tracked to the majors if he can adjust to professional hitters quickly enough.
A former two-way player at Oklahoma, he only switched over to pitching full time his sophomore year. However, once he committed to the mound, Cavalli showed strikeout potential (8.8 K/9) with strong run prevention (3.28 ERA). He did struggle mightily with walks (5.2 BB/9) but has the build and pitching repertoire that should’ve made Washington ecstatic to land him at No. 22.
7. RHP Andry Lara (Age: 17, ETA: 2024)
Lara was the Nationals’ top international signee from their 2019 class, inking a $1.25 million deal with the club at 16 years old out of Venezuela. MLB Pipeline ranked him the 16th overall international prospect of his class due to his pitch command that’s considered ahead of his age.
He has yet to pitch in the minors, leaving plenty of guesswork as to his true potential. That being said, his aggressive approach and still-developing fastball that sits around 92-95 mph is enough to make him a candidate to shoot up prospect rankings once he gets a year or two under his belt.
8. 1B Drew Mendoza (Age: 22, ETA: 2022)
Ending the streak of pitchers on this list is Mendoza, an infielder out of Florida State who raked against ACC pitching. Drafted in the third round of the 2019 draft for above-slot value, Mendoza started out at Single-A Hagerstown and showed flashes of power (16 extra-base hits) while struggling to the tune of 57 strikeouts in 239 plate appearances.
His approach at the plate is considered relaxed, sometimes too passive to the point he often falls behind in counts. The Nationals moved him from third base to first in order to help him focus on his hitting while playing an easier defensive position. If he can unlock the power he displayed in college, the Nationals may have found themselves their next everyday first baseman.
9. RHP Eddy Yean (Age: 19, ETA: 2023)
No international pitching prospect in the Nationals’ farm system has gotten more buzz in the past year than Eddy Yean, who has improved with each promotion he’s received over the past year. He made 10 starts between rookie ball and Low-A Auburn in 2019, posting a 3.50 ERA with a 1.165 WHIP and 8.4 K/9.
Still a long ways away from the majors, Yean’s biggest priorities are conditioning and stamina as he builds up for what would’ve been his first full professional season in 2020. He’s got an effortless delivery that projects well for his health long term. With an electric fastball and above-average slider already in his repertoire, there’s a lot to like about Yean’s potential moving forward.
10. LHP Tim Cate (Age: 22, ETA: 2021)
The only left-hander to crack the Nationals’ top 10, Cate is listed at a generous 6-feet tall while weighing in at 185 pounds. He’s not going to overpower any hitters with his fastball that sometimes dips down into the high 80s, but the 2018 second-round pick has a plus curveball and good life on most of his pitches to make the Nationals optimistic he can stick at the major-league level.
Even though he underwent Tommy John surgery in college, the Nationals weren’t afraid to cut Cate loose for 143 2/3 innings last season. Between Single-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, he made 25 starts and posted a 3.07 ERA with a 1.142 WHIP and 8.7 K/9. The loss of a minor-league season may set him back a year, but Cate has steadily progressed toward knocking on the door of the majors.
- LHP Seth Romero (Age: 24, ETA: 2022)
- OF Jeremy De La Rosa (Age: 18, ETA: 2023)
- LHP Matt Cronin (Age: 22, ETA: 2021)
- RHP Cole Henry (Age: 21 on July 15, ETA: 2022)
- SS/3B Yasel Antuna (Age: 20, ETA: 2022)
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