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Washington Nationals Top 20 Prospects for 2021

Coming off the World Series championship in 2019, the Washington Nationals looked poised to make a run again in 2020. Instead, the Nationals fell flat on their faces and finished tied for last in the NL East with the Mets with a 26-34 record. The starting pitchers struggled and failed to live up to the hype. Washington Nationals’ top prospect Carter Kieboom struggled while batting .202 with just one extra-base hit.

The Nationals did improve their lineup for 2021 by making a trade for power-hitting first basemen Josh Bell. In doing so, they moved two of their top ten prospects in Wil Crow and Eddy Yean. Currently, the Nationals farm ranks toward the bottom among team rankings. But, if reports out of the instructional league are accurate, several prospects could be big breakouts in 2021. As of right now, the Nationals have zero prospects on my current top 100. But, there are reasons to believe that could change soon.

Enough talk, let’s get to the list! Without further ado, your Washington Nationals top prospects for 2021.

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Washington Nationals Top Prospects for Fantasy Baseball

1. Jackson Rutledge, RHP

Jackson Rutledge, Washington Nationals Top Prospects

No current Washington Nationals top prospects make my top 100 overall list, but the first one to crack that will likely be Jackson Rutledge. Rutledge tops the Washington Nationals top prospects list and can be a big riser in 2021. He was the 17th overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft but likely would have gone much higher if it was not for some concerning medicals. Fortunately, there have been no medical issues for Rutledge since his professional debut.

Rutledge intimidates hitters on the mound with his 6’8 frame and fires a fastball that reaches triple digits. That dominant pitch averages 97 miles-per-hour and can carry that velocity deep into starts. Rutledge gets a nice ride on his fastball and loves to throw it up in the zone, but he can also throw a sinker to the bottom of the zone.

Rutledge also features a slider that is easily a plus pitch. Its velocity reaches the upper-80s, and he uses it to get strikeouts often. He features a curveball that is still developing but has the potential to be an average pitch. There were concerns about his changeup, but Rutledge spent this past offseason working to improve that pitch.

Like many tall pitchers, Rutledge sometimes struggles with consistency and his command. He uses a short stride in his delivery and does not overextend. Rutledge also spent his time at the alternate training site and instructional camp, making his delivery repeatable. This should naturally lead to more consistent command and control.

If all develops right for Jackson Rutledge, he could be a frontline starting pitcher. Displaying these improved skills in-game in 2021 will go a long way. It would not surprise me to see the Nationals be aggressive with him, and we could see him debut as early as 2022. Do not be surprised when Rutledge is a top 50 prospect by this time next year.

2. Cade Cavalli, RHP

Cade Cavalli, Washington Nationals Top Prospects

Much of what we talked about with Jackson Rutledge applies to Cade Cavalli. Injury concerns caused Cavalli to fall into the Nationals lap at 22nd overall in the 2020 draft. He likely would have been drafted high out of high school if it were not for back injuries and signability issues. The Braves selected Cavalli in the 29th round, but he opted to head to the University of Oklahoma.

His freshman year at Oklahoma, Cavalli played mostly first base while starting two games on the mound. After posting a 40 percent strikeout rate over 62 games as a hitter, Cavalli transitioned to pitching full-time. Given that he has not solely focused on pitching for long, there are plenty of reasons to believe that Cavalli could continue to grow as a pitcher.

Cavalli gets easy velocity on his fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can reach 98 mph. His fastball gets nice ride action to it as well. Cavalli’s curveball is also considered a plus pitch by many. There is a clear distinction between his curveball and slider. The continued development of Cavalli’s changeup will be a huge factor in his development as a starting pitcher.

While there is a high-end upside for Cade Cavalli, there are concerns. He has dealt with back and arm issues over the last several years. Outside of injuries, Cavalli’s command has been inconsistent, and he sometimes gets hit hard. Despite the concerns, Cavalli has all the stuff to succeed as a Major League starter.

3. Andry Lara, RHP

Andry Lara, Nationals Top Prospects

Just because Andry Lara has not made his stateside debut does not mean he is not ready to be toward the top of the Washington Nationals Top Prospects list. The Nationals had Lara as the number one international pitcher on their board in the 2019-2020 signing class.

Lara is physically advanced for his age, just turning 18 years old last month. He is already 6’4/180 and has plenty of room to grow into his frame. His fastball already reaches 95 miles-per-hour, and there is enough projectability to believe that he could have his fastball regularly sit around 95-96 when he adds strength. Lara’s breaking ball is what some call a slurve, but it is a well-developed pitch that should be an above-average offering in the future.

Lara’s changeup is a pitch that is still developing but shows good promise. On the mound, Lara brings a bulldog-type approach and is very confident in his ability. He tends to get aggressive with hitters and has good deception on pitches. As he comes stateside this season, it will be interesting to see how Lara handles a full-season workload. There is a lot of upside if Lara continues to develop as expected.

4. Yasel Antuna, SS

Yasel Antuna

When I hear the name Antuna, I think about another fish, who happens to be the best player in baseball, Trout. Another name that pops in my mind is Acuña. Okay, maybe I am a little crazy, lol. No, Yasel Antuna will likely never amount to a Trout or Acuña, but reports from instructional camp have raved about Antuna’s development.

Antuna was one of the headliners of the 2016 J2 class with Luis Garcia. Despite signing over four years ago, Antuna has yet to appear above single-A and has struggled outside of rookie ball debut in 2017. Tommy John Surgery and the lost 2020 season have definitely hurt Antuna’s development, but not all was lost in 2020. He has fallen down prospect rankings, but 2021 may be the year where the hype comes back to life. The switch-hitter was the Nationals best hitter in the alternate training site and the fall instructional league.

Antuna creates more power, and his approach is more refined from the left side. But, he is solid from both sides of the plate. His raw power is definitely higher than his game power, but the in-game power should be average or better. 2021 will be a major year of development for Antuna as he needs to stay healthy and show his improvements consistently in games.

5. Cole Henry, RHP

Cole Henry, Washington Nationals Top Prospects

Cole Henry fits the mold of the type of pitcher the Washington Nationals love. Henry is a big, powerful arm that stands 6’4/211. Henry’s fastball touched 97 mph during his senior year of high school, and he flashed an excellent curveball. The draft-eligible sophomore signed for well above his second-round slot value, ensuring he signed with the Nationals.

Henry’s fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s but gets up to 97. His curveball flashed plus and gets great 12-6 action. He will need to work on consistency with it, but it has the makings of an excellent pitch. The changeup is still developing, but it has the makings of an average pitch good enough to compliment his fastball and curve well.

Henry can pitch deep into games and maintain velocity. He has had several arm issues in the past, but Henry looks to push past that and prove durability.  His mechanics are improving, and he has good control and throws strikes when he wants. Henry has the makings of an SP3, but he could be more if his curveball and changeup continue to develop. He will be an exciting pitcher to watch in 2021.

6. Mason Denaburg, RHP

Mason Denaburg, Top Prospect

Much like the other arms in the Nationals system, Mason Denaburg fits the Nationals mold once again. Denaburg fell in the 2018 draft after dealing with bicep tendinitis during his senior year of high school. The Nationals did not shy away and signed Denaburg above his slot value.

Denaburg’s prospect value has fallen after a rough debut in 2019 and a shoulder surgery that ended his season. Denaburg seems to be on the right track to be fully healthy for the 2021 season.

His fastball gets great velocity and good life to it. He sits near the mid-90s and tops at 97. Denaburg’s curveball is his best secondary offering as he produces excellent spin rates and generates plenty of swings and misses with that pitch. Like many young arms, his changeup is still developing. Denaburg’s control should be at least average long-term given his delivery. 2021 will be a big developmental season for Denaburg, and at this point, he seems like a wildcard. But, the tools are there for him to develop into a back-end starting pitcher.

7. Drew Mendoza, 1B

Drew Mendoza

A highly successful career at Florida State University led the Washington Nationals to select Drew Mendoza in the third round of the 2019 draft. In three seasons and 160 games, Mendoza hit 31 home runs and posted a .300/.443/.540 slash line.

At the plate, Mendoza makes good contact and lifts the ball extremely well. He gets natural power from his 6’5/230 pound frame. Mendoza will likely post high OBPs because he works deep into counts consistently. The only issue with that is he will likely strikeout more often as well. The Nationals have stated they want to see Mendoza be more aggressive at the plate and really tap into his power. If he does become more aggressive in early counts, he could take a huge step forward.

Mendoza was one of the top performers at the alternate training site. Reports stated that he focused on creating a shorter bat path and being more aggressive on inside pitches. HItting coach Brian Daubach said Mendoza made the proper adjustments and was really hitting the ball with more authority.

8. Jeremy De La Rosa, OF

Jeremy De La Rosa

The Nationals have a great history of scouting and developing international talent with the likes of Juan Soto and Victor Robles. The organization believes they have another talent like that in Jeremy De La Rosa. De La Rosa held his own in 2019 rookie ball with a .343 OBP, two home runs, and three stolen bases in 99 plate appearances.

De La Rosa was the youngest player at the Nationals alternate training site but held his own. He fit right in with the older players and showed the ability to hit against very advanced pitchers. De La Rosa is growing into more power and has a very balanced swing, which leads to consistent contact. He also has above-average sprint speeds that should translate to stolen bases. Given that De La Rosa just turned 19, there are reasons to believe that he will continue to add strength to his frame. Do not be surprised to see Jeremy De La Rosa be a fast riser up the Washington Nationals top prospect rankings.

9. Tim Cate, LHP

Tim Cate, Nationals Top Prospects

Tim Cate was a three-year starting pitching standout at the University of Connecticut. He dominated hitters, posting a strikeout rate north of 30 percent. Cate had first-round talent, but his smaller frame and previously having Tommy John Surgery pushed him down, draft boards. Cate rewarded the nationals selecting him in the second round by leading all Nationals MILB pitchers with 139 strikeouts in 2019.

Cate’s best pitch is his curveball, which is graded as double-plus by some. He is comfortable throwing it in any count and generate strikeouts and weak contact. In 2019, Cate posted a groundball rate of 58.3 percent. The biggest concern with Cate is his fastball velocity. It averages under 90 miles-per-hour, but Cate does command it extremely well. Cate developing into a successful starting pitcher hinges on the development of his changeup and added fastball velocity.

10. Joan Adon, RHP

Joan Adon, Washington Nationals Top Prospects

The Nationals did extremely well in the international market in 2016, and Joan Adon is just another example. Adon has pitched well in his time in the Minors and especially turned it on in 2019 when he spent the whole season in single-A Hagerstown. Adon’s fastball is his best weapon as it sits in the mid-90s, and he keeps the velocity deep into starts. Adon’s slider also serves as a great strikeout pitch to play off his fastball. It gets late movement and generates a lot of swings and misses.

The downside to Adon is that his changeup is lacking at the moment. It flashes the potential to be an average offering, but he will need to continue to work on that development. His command is also spotty. Adon has struggled with walks in the past due to falling behind in counts early. There is a reason for optimism, though, as Adon seemed to improve his command in the fall instructional league. We will see how it carries over into games in 2021. For now, Adon looks like a back-end starting pitcher, or his fastball/slider combo could play up well in the bullpen.

11. Matt Cronin, LHP

Matt Cronin, Nationals Top Prospects

Matt Cronin was a dominant reliever at the University of Arkansas and good enough for the Nationals to pay a fourth-round pick for the reliever. His strikeout rate of over 35 percent carried right over to his pro debut, where he struck out 41 of the 85 hitters he faced in single-A.

Cronin’s fastball and curveball are both plus pitches that he uses to dominate hitters. His fastball gets to the mid-90s and rises as it reaches the plate. Cronin comes way over the top with his arm slot, and it aids his hammer curveball. Croning does feature a changeup, but it is a below-average offering. While his command is not great, he can get away with it as a reliever. Cronin has the stuff to be a high-leverage relief pitcher.

12. Seth Romero, LHP

Seth Romero, Washington Nationals top Prospects

Seth Romero was a surprise first-round draft pick after being kicked off the University of Houston baseball team his junior year. Romero has a long track record of off the field issues but was also extremely dominant during his time at Houston. In 226 collegiate innings, Romero posted a 2.43 ERA and struck out 290 hitters.

After signing with the Nationals, Romero was sent home from Minor league camp for violating team policy. He followed that up with Tommy John Surgery. Romero posted a total of 47 MILB innings before making his Major League debut in 2020. He was roughed up for four earned runs in 2.2 innings pitched.

Romero has all the talent in the world with a deadly fastball and slider combo. His changeup is also a very serviceable offering. The left-handed pitcher can generate plenty of swings-and-misses. At this point, time is running thin for Romero. He is a complete wild-card who fizzle out or get back on track.

13. Roismar Quintana, OF

Washington Nationals Top Prospects

In addition to Andry Lara, the Nationals also signed a young outfielder names Roismar Quintana. Quintana came stateside for the fall instructional league and impressed the Nationals organization with his bat and glove. He is highly athletic and generates good power for his size. His bat speed is solid, and while the home run power has yet to take off, there is definitely room for him to grow into it. Quintana has a very advanced approach at the plate for his age, and he should only continue to improve. The power will likely come as he matures and adds strength to his frame. Roismar Quintana is the perfect example of a player who can make a big jump up the Washington Nationals top prospects list.

14. Israel Pineda, C

Israel Pineda

Israel Pineda signed in the same class as Luis Garcia and Yasel Antuna. The Nationals think a lot of Pineda and have been aggressive with his promotions each season. Pineda makes hard contact at the plate and can hit to all fields with ease. When he does try to get aggressive and hit more home runs, he tends to get pull happy. There is not a ton of game power, but Pineda could develop ten-12 home run pop. Pineda is still young and has plenty of time to develop behind the plate and with his bat.

15. Armando Cruz, SS

Armando Cruz, Washington Nationals

The Nationals handed out one of the largest signing bonuses of the 2020-2021 J2 class to Armando Cruz. Cruz is most known for his glove and defensive skills, one of the class’s best pure fielders. His arm is equally impressive, and Cruz’s quick hands also translate with this bat. While he does have fast hands through the zone, power is not a huge part of his game. Cruz’s exit velocities are good for his age, and with added strength, he could grow into more game power. The bat-to-ball skills are very good, and Cruz should have good speed on the base paths. You will find him much higher on real-life prospect lists thanks to his glove but could be a fast riser up the Nationals top prospects if the power comes around.

16. Holden Powell, RHP

Holden Powell

There is little doubt about the future position of Holden Powell. Powell was a dominant closer at UCLA, and the Nationals have every intention of making him their closer of the future. We do not often see relievers being drafted high in the MLB Draft, but the Nationals were confident in Powell’s ability.

Powell’s fastball and slider are both plus pitches. His fastball sits in the upper 90s, and he blows it by hitters. Powell’s slider may be his best pitch, and it produces very high spin rates and great breaking action. His command and control are good enough for Powell to be put in high leverage situations out of the bullpen and could be the Nationals future closer.

17. Viandel Pena, 2B

Viandel Pena, Washington Nationals Top Prospects

Viandel Pena may be small and lacks power, but he can flat out hit. When he debuted in 2019 in the Gulf Coast League, Pena slashed .359/.455/.481 and swiped six bases. Pena is patient at the plate and walks at a high clip. He makes consistent contact and has shown the ability to hit from both sides of the plate. Pena can hit to all fields well and is an above-average runner that is capable of stealing bases. He reminds me slightly of Luis Arraez but in a switch hitter form. You shouldn’t expect much power from Pena, but he has the makings of a future leadoff hitter.

18. Sammy Infante, SS

Sammy Infante

Sammy Infante is a solid athlete and ballplayer but lacks any real standout tools. He is solid in the field and has a chance to stick at shortstop long term but can play second or third base. At the plate, Infante is definitely a power over hit type of player. He often struggles to make consistent contact, but when he does, it often is hard contact. Infante has shown the ability to make adjustments and is the type of player who can continue to develop. The biggest question is, will the game power show up. If it does, Infante could be a big riser up the Washington Nationals top prospects list.

19. Daniel Marte, OF

Daniel Marte

Daniel Marte has yet to debut in a professional game stateside, but he was impressive at the Nationals fall instructional league. Marte is a well-rounded player that can hit for average, power and is speedy on the basepaths. In the Dominican Summer League in 2019, Marte hit five home runs and stole ten bases. He slashed .257/.310/.448. The lacking tool in his profile is the hit tool. The reports out of instructs were that Marte made major strides and was one of the most impressive players there. If he continues to develop his hit tool, he will make a major leap up the Washington Nationals top prospects list.

20. Reid Schaller, RHP

Reid Schaller

Reid Schaller was a rare case of a college player who saw minimal playing time and still got drafted early. The former Vanderbilt Commodore missed his first season after having Tommy John surgery and then pitched just 24 innings after being selected as a redshirt freshman. It was a rare case for a freshman to be draft-eligible, but the Nationals did not shy away from drafting him in the third round of the 2018 draft.

Schaller flashes a plus fastball that can reach the upper 90s and counters it with a big breaking slider. His changeup is still developing and could be the hinge on whether he sticks as a starter. His fastball/slider combo could really play up in the bullpen. Schaller has shown that he can pump 98 mph out of the bullpen, which would play up well. 2021 could be a big year in deciding whether Schaller is a starter or reliever long term.

Thanks for taking the time to read my Washington Nationals top prospects article. Be sure to check out our other team’s top 20’s from Eric Cross and me.

Media References: Jacob Swain, Josh Norris, Baseball America, Carlos Collazo

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