No one looking at farm system rankings should be too surprised to see the Washington Nationals far down on most lists, since most of them have said the same thing over the previous few seasons about how the club landed where it is right now.
Having won it all in 2019, having finished in the top half of the standings in recent seasons (though 2020 was rough), leading to lower first round picks, and having called up a bunch of prospects over the past few seasons, the organization is not exactly knee-deep in high-end prospect talent right now, though that could change in the near future.
MLB.com’s team of Jonathan Mayo, Jim Callis, and Mike Rosenbaum had the Nationals 30th in baseball in their farm system rankings last September, after Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo & Co. in the D.C. front office brought up a number of young players over the course of the 60-game COVID campaign:
“The Nationals have tapped into their farm more than ever this year, assigning [Carter] Kieboom to their Opening Day roster and promoting prospects such as Luis García, Wil Crowe, and Seth Romero within the season’s first month. The organization won’t have a Top 100 prospect after Kieboom graduates, though right-handers Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli, Washington’s first-round picks in 2019 and ‘20, both are future Top 100 candidates.”
In a mid-December interview with reporters, Rizzo said that he was actually really excited to see Rutledge, Cavalli, and others in the organization at the club’s Alternate Training Site out in Fredericksburg, VA, where they continued to progress, working out as part of the 60-Man player pool for 2020’s truncated season since there was no minor league ball last summer.
“Those young kids that we had seen in Fredericksburg all season and then in Instructional League, [it] was extremely exciting to see those guys pitch. We’ve seen several guys that are going to help us this year in the big leagues that maybe aren’t household names by the prospects experts, but we saw a handful of guys that are close to impacting the big league roster soon.”
Cavalli, 22, and the Nationals’ 2020 1st Round pick (22nd overall last year), was the only one of the club’s prospects to crack MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 for 2021 this winter, coming in at 99 on their list.
“Trades and graduations have stripped the system of some high-end talent,” MLB’s Pipeline scouts noted, “but there’s still plenty of pitching depth that could help the big league roster in the coming years.”
Though Garcia and Kieboom graduated and left the prospect rankings, Cavalli landed in the Top 100, and, MLB’s scouts added, “... [t]he 6-foot-4 right-hander showed electric stuff after signing and gives the organization another power arm on top of Jackson Rutledge, [the] top pick in ’19.”
The Nationals were the only team without a single prospect in Keith Law’s Top 100 for 2021 when the list was released earlier this winter, but he wrote that Cavalli, “was the closest.”
It’s not too surprising then, that Law too had the Nationals ranked 30th of 30 on his list of the top farm systems in baseball when The Athletic released it on Wednesday.
They got their World Series in 2019, Law wrote, and, “as is often the case with teams that do ... they spent a lot of their prospect capital to get there.”
“They’ve traded prospects, drafted lower in the first round, and given up some picks for free agents,” Law added, while noting that the Nationals have been aggressive internationally in the last few seasons, “... and the Nats’ system could look a whole lot better in a year if all of their teenage Latin American prospects get a chance to play and show us if their abilities line up with their tools.”
How will Cavalli and Rutledge develop in 2021? What sort of minor league season will there be? Will the Nationals’ 2020 draft picks and recent international signings develop this year and move the club up in the farm system rankings for 2022? Which prospects will you have your eye on in the upcoming season? Who’s the first/next one up if you had to guess?