FOX Sports MLB Analyst
FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new twist on classic prospect ratings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already available, farming systems alone cannot tell the whole story. So let’s take a deep dive into each one MLB club, ranking them all by players in an organization who start their season 26 or younger, from the bigs to the farm. Every weekday until March 24th, we’ll be counting down from last to first.
number 18 Washington Nationals
Total score for 26 and under: 15 (out of 30)
Few teams in MLB history have fallen down the mountain of a championship into the depths of a rebuild faster than the Nationals. It was a legitimate first-to-worst speedrun, going from an iconic World Series run in 2019 to a league-worst 107 losses in 2022, ending the season with a roster that barely resembles the group that went lift the commissioner’s trophy only three years. previous
Almost all of the team’s top contributors in 2019 have been traded (Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner), left in free agency (Anthony Rendon), regressed in shocking fashion (Patrick Corbin), haven’t was able to avoid injury (Stephen Strasburg). , or retired (Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, Brian Dozier, Adam Eaton).
While Washington is projected to finish near the bottom of the National League once again, there is reason for long-term optimism. Their under-26 talent pool is below average, but there are some up-and-coming players who could certainly look like pivotal pieces a year from now.
Major League Position Players: 4 (of 10)
Before we dive into the actual pillars of the next good national team, we need to take a moment to acknowledge that the only starting player left from the 2019 squad also qualifies incredibly for this U26 list: Victor oak trees Once a consensus top-10 prospect in all of MLB, Robles was even more hyped than Soto before his fellow infielder took the baseball world by storm in 2018. Since then, the defense of Robles’ elite in center field has remained, but his bat has remained. completely stuck in the mud, drastically limiting its overall value.
For now, Robles remains the projected starting center fielder, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to be a core contributor in the future. In that regard, the names to watch closely over the next few years are shortstop CJ Abrams and catcher Keibert Ruiz, each key components of the returns in the Soto and Scherzer/Turner deals respectively. A shortstop with elite bat-to-ball skills who can catch is a valuable piece, but early returns suggest Ruiz may not have as much usable power as many originally projected for him. His ability to increase his slugging in the coming years will go a long way in determining his ultimate ceiling.
Speaking of ceiling, Abrams’ ridiculous physical tools, highlighted by his elite speed, can still manifest as one of the most exciting shortstops in the league. For now, he’s tasked with honing his raw skills at the plate and in the field. He didn’t spend much time in the minors, but the Nationals seem willing to roll with him in the majors and trust that he’ll figure it out in time. It’s a tall order, but the sheer talent here is still tremendous.
As for the local players, infielder Luis García is barely older than Abrams and has shown an impressive hitting tool for his age, albeit with below-average defense at second base and questionable skills at the base. Simply put, the guy doesn’t draw walks. Abrams is similar in that regard, and that flaw in both players’ skill sets may continue to be exposed by the big leagues.
Looking at the depth chart beyond Abrams and Garcia, the Nationals have three players under the age of 26 who lack significant prospect pedigree but whose youth still qualify them as potential bounce-back projects: Carter Kieboom, Jeter Downs and Lucius Fox. Washington’s developmental trajectory doesn’t inspire much confidence for the future of this trio, but each could have big-league opportunities in 2023 to prove otherwise.
Major League Pitchers: 5 (of 10)
MacKenzie Gore and Josiah Gray headlined the pitching side of the big Soto and Scherzer/Turner trades, with Gore coming from the Padres and Gray the Dodgers. Gray’s rapid evolution from Division II shortstop at Le Moyne College in upstate New York to an MLB starting pitcher in just four years is still remarkable. Now he has to figure out how to be more than just a big league pitcher, but a good one. His repertoire passes the eye test, but he still hasn’t figured out exactly how to command and weaponize it, which was borne out in him allowing 66 walks and 38 home runs in 2022. The ingredients are still there because Gray be. a heavy duty mid-rev starter, but will need to be refined.
We’re six years removed from San Diego selecting Gore third overall in the 2017 draft as one of the most celebrated high school pitchers in recent memory. It’s been a winding journey ever since. Injuries and mechanical inconsistencies have dampened the hype considerably, but he’s still a hugely talented 24-year-old with some of the best stuff you’ll see from a left-handed starter. In 2023 he will have every opportunity to remind everyone why he was so important as an amateur.
The violent delivery of 2020 first-round pick Cade Cavalli makes his future as a staple of the Nats’ rotation somewhat cloudy, but it’s never been in doubt. His electric 90s fastball tops a deep arsenal of impressive secondary pitches, allowing him to increase whiffs and avoid hard contact. His impressive physique screams workhorse, but he has been plagued by injuries since moving to the mound full-time in college. He’s been largely healthy as a pro, but we’ll see how he holds up over 30 MLB starts.
Potential position players: 4 (of 5)
While our criteria generally favors prospects closer to the big leagues, Washington’s attractive collection of lower-level talent was enough to earn them a high score in this category anyway. Arguably no farm system in baseball has more position players who can’t buy a beer but are old enough to dream big than the Nationals. James Wood, the biggest part of Soto’s return, is a 6-foot-7 outfielder with spectacular hitting ability and an athletic grace that barely seems possible for someone so old and so young. He might be the best prospect in baseball a year from now.
While Wood might be the safest bet to be a future superstar, 2022 first-rounder Elijah Green’s upside is nearly unmatched among outfield prospects in the low minors. Son of former NFL tight end Eric Green, he has more tools across the board. His contact ability is the only thing in question — he’ll look to put those doubts to rest in his first full pro season in 2023. Add to that 2021 first-round pick Brady House (considered an elite amateur prospect for years before of his draft) and 18-year-old Dominican outfielder Cristhian Vaquero (received the highest signing bonus of his international signing class), and it’s not hard to imagine this being one of the strongest farm systems in the baseball in a short time.
Bolstering that remarkable group is outfielder Robert Hassell, who turned 21 last summer and has reached Double-A, something none of the others can say yet. Hassell was also part of the Soto deal and doesn’t have much of the power potential of Wood or Green, but he can play center field and has been a hit tool dating back to when his Tennessee team was in the little league. World Series.
Potential pitchers: 2 (of 5)
This is a small group, with most of the names likely received for the bullpen. Cole Henry, a 2020 second-round pick, could compete for a starting role in 2024. Beyond him, keep an eye on Rule 5 pick Thad Ward, undrafted free agent signing Zach Brzykcy and the left of 2022 Jose Ferrer. impact relievers in the near future. Former first-round pick Jackson Rutledge might also be best suited for relief responsibilities.
As with position player prospects, the name to really focus on is in the lower minors: 18-year-old right-hander Jarlin Susana, who might be the hardest-to-pitch teenager in the world have ever seen This is not an exaggeration.
Generally, pitchers that are this big and strong this carry this Youngsters are as risky as they come, so Susana has a long way to go before becoming a useful big leaguer. But he sure is fun to watch, and the Nationals may have something special in him for years to come.
Jordan Shusterman is half of it @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball throughout his adult life, mostly for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan who lives in the Eastern time zone, which means he loves a good 10pm first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.
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