In the first week since the Nationals overhauled their roster and swapped veteran stars for young up-and-comers, they’ve seen three of the players they acquired at the trade deadline appear for them in the majors and several other prospects carve out new roles on the big-league club.
The most anticipated Nationals debut so far has been that of Josiah Gray, one of the two headliners from Washington’s trade of Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to Los Angeles. Gray made his first D.C. appearance Monday and allowed just one run in five innings. Catcher Riley Adams (Brad Hand deal) and reliever Mason Thompson (Daniel Hudson) are in the bigs as well.
It’s the players they acquired last week, along with their high draft picks from recent seasons, that the Nationals envision carrying them to their next World Series title.
“The players that we acquired today at the trade deadline and the last couple of drafts that we had and trade deadline acquisitions we had will be the core of this next championship-caliber club,” GM Mike Rizzo said after trading away eight players in 36 hours.
So, who’s next? Here’s a look at when the other top prospects in the Nationals’ farm system are expected to reach the majors.
Catcher Keibert Ruiz joined the Nationals’ organization along with Gray in the Dodgers deal and reported to Triple-A first to get everyday at-bats while Washington takes a look at Adams and fellow backstop Tres Barrera. Ruiz could be up as soon as September when the active roster expands from 26 to 28 players.
Two other recently acquired players that could join Ruiz in D.C. this season are right-handed pitcher Gerardo Carrillo (Scherzer/Turner) and outfielder Lane Thomas (Jon Lester). Carrillo is a reliever in Double-A that throws triple-digit heat but still has some work to do with his command. Thomas has some MLB experience and a good showing in Triple-A should give him a chance to push Andrew Stevenson and Yadiel Hernández for a bench spot next year.
Next spring, MiLB strikeout leader Cade Cavalli should have every opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation. Many teams would opt to start a player like Cavalli (their first-rounder last year) in the minors for the first few weeks to manipulate his service time and tack on an additional year of control, but in the past, the Nationals have not shied away from promoting players as soon they’re ready.
Washington hoped 2019 first-round pick Jackson Rutledge would make some headway this season but it’s turned into a bit of a lost campaign after a shoulder strain took away a big chunk of his starts. He will be a candidate to start the 2022 season at Double-A anyway, which could pave the way for the Nationals to call him up midway through the year if things go well.
Not far behind is right-hander Cole Henry, who joined Cavalli and Rutledge in the High-A rotation to begin the year. He’s the only one of the three still left after battling some injury issues of his own. In five starts, Henry has a 3.00 ERA with 35 strikeouts to only eight walks. MLB Pipeline lists his expected time of arrival to the majors as 2023, but the 2020 second-rounder has shown the polish that could make him a fast riser.
In actuality, the Nationals won’t be staffing a rotation that includes Gray, Cavalli, Rutledge and Henry next year. They still have Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin signed to expensive contracts and both Joe Ross and Erick Fedde have shown flashes that could convince the Nationals to keep them around as well. Yet injuries happen and for the first time in years, Washington will have pitching depth with some serious upside.
Their offense will still have some holes, but young infielders Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia are being afforded the opportunity to lock down starting spots. Should either falter, 21-year-old Yasel Antuna was added to the 40-man roster last winter and could be the next man up.
2023 and beyond
Looking further ahead, the Nationals acquired several prospects this year that are more long-term projects with high potential.
Shortstop Armando Cruz, 17, was their top international signing of the 2021 class and projects to be a Gold Glove-caliber defender. They also drafted shortstop Brady House, 18, with the 11th pick in July and his bat is considered one of the most advanced to come out of the high school ranks this year.
Trade deadline acquisitions such as right-handed pitcher Aldo Ramirez (Kyle Schwarber) and shortstop Jordy Barley (Daniel Hudson) are raw talents with a few years of development ahead of them.
Thompson and Gray were first, but there are many more young players to come for Washington. How they pan out once they reach the majors will determine just how long it takes for the Nationals to develop into contenders again.
Correction: A previous version of this story stated rosters will expand to 40 players in September. A rule change put into effect this season lowered that number to 28.