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Washington Nationals news & notes: Yasel Antuna & future; Reboot, rebuild, whatever update…

Leftover notes and quotes from the Nats’ brass at the Winter Meetings…

Antuna’s Es and Future:

Signed to a $3.85M bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, Yasel Antuna was added to the Nationals’ 40-man roster in 2020 to protect him from selection in that year’s Rule 5 Draft, but this winter he was DFA’d to clear a spot on the 40-man, then outrighted to Triple-A Rochester, after the 23-year-old in-turned-outfielder put up a .227/.307/.385 line with 17 doubles and 11 home runs in 125 games and 523 plate appearances at High-A Wilmington and Double-A in the Nats’ system this past season.

Antuna shifted from the infield to the outfield this season after committing 36 errors in 96 games at short for Wilmington in 2021, and he’s struggled to hit for average in the minors, so the move was not completely unexpected.

Salt River Rafters v Peoria Javelinas Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

So what was the club thinking with the latest moves with the still relatively young prospect?

Washington’s GM Mike Rizzo shared his thoughts on the roster maneuver when he spoke at the Winter Meetings earlier this month.

“We still think [Antuna is] young enough to still be a good player for us,” Rizzo explained.

“We needed roster flexibility on the 40-man. We thought that because of the level he was at and the performance and the numbers that he had at that level that he would make it through the waiver period, and so we optioned him back to Triple-A. We’re going to continue to work with him. He’s had a position change, and it’s often tough to adjust to that, but we still have high hopes for him.”

Reboot - Status Report:

A year and a half into the reboot the club kicked off with a sell-off of expiring deals (and a year-plus of control of Trea Turner) at the Trade Deadline in 2021, and six months after the (hopefully) franchise-altering trade of Juan Soto (and Josh Bell) this past summer, GM Mike Rizzo talked at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, CA earlier this month about where things stand in the process as the club builds its roster for 2023 and beyond.

Coming off a 55-107 season, and third consecutive fifth-place finish in the five-team NL East, Rizzo acknowledged that the 2022 campaign was a disappointing run they hope they won’t replicate any time soon.

“Obviously 55 wins last year was a major disappointment,” Rizzo said. “We thought we were better than that coming out of Spring Training. We’re judged by wins and losses at the big league level. And that’s always the criteria that we’re cognizant of, and we want to win.

“We’re tired of the rebuild term, reboot term, whatever we’ve called it. The important part is for our young players to progress and to get better, and if they do progress, and get better, it puts us on the right road and it wins us more games.

“So I think that if the question is are we expecting to win more games this year than we did last year, by all means we are.”

MLB-St. Louis Cardinals at Washington Nationals
2022 1st Round pick Elijah Green speaking with the media in Nationals Park.

And how are the Nationals measuring the progress of the rebuild or reboot or whatever at the major league level and in the organization as a whole?

“It all comes down to where the system is going and how are the young players progressing,” Rizzo said, “and from the year before to last year we won 74 more games throughout our minor league system, so we saw some progress there, we saw the infusion of 5-6 young players at the big league level, we saw the infusion of 10-12-14 prospects being pushed into the upper ranks of our good, young players, so…

“We see ourselves as an organization on the rise, and I think we’ll see at the big league level a way more competitive team, and I think that the minor league system is something that — we have very high hopes for those players in the minor league system. We’ve got — we feel we’ve got some of the most exciting, tooled-up players in the game, we’ve got a lot of ‘em, and we’re looking forward to seeing them progress.”