As I’m sure you’ve heard, the Washington Nationals are going through a “rebuild” of sorts. To kick it off, general manager Mike Rizzo and the front office sent away eight fan-favorites (and Jon Lester) in exchange for a plethora of top prospects during a crazy month in July 2021 at the trade deadline. The trade acquisitions along with a successful 2021 draft, headlined by the 11th overall pick in Brady House, catapulted the Nationals’ farm system 10 spots to 20th in the league according to MLB Pipeline – prior to this they were ranked dead last. Of note though, Keith Law of The Athletic and Baseball America are not as bullish as MLB Pipeline and have ranked the Nats’ farm system at No. 28.
The July sell-off led to a 17-41 record during the last two months of the season and, in turn, secured the 5th overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft. What the Nats’ front office will do with this pick remains to be seen, but speculation continues to grow around who’s being added to their draft board. Will they take a top high school hitter like, 6-foot-3, 225-pound, slugger, Elijah Green? Or will Mike Rizzo draft the #1 high school pitcher in Dylan Lesko, a move that would fit his M.O. of drafting right-handed pitchers with the Nationals’ first-round pick. With the college season ramping up and Juan Soto hitting free agency after the 2024 season, it’s more sensible to assume a college hitter will be taken with the plan to have him contribute before Soto must make his decision.
There is no guarantee Rizzo will take the college hitter route but if he does, it will most likely be one of these top draft prospects. With the lockout in full swing here are a few more reasons to watch some top-level college baseball.
All “No.” rankings are according to mlb.com’s draft prospect rankings as of February 2022.
No. 4 – 3B Jacob Berry, LSU
Jacob Berry is the real deal. In 2021, he was named National Freshman of the Year after slashing .352/.439/.676 with 41 extra-base hits, 17 of them via the long ball. Berry is a switch-hitter flaunting a 60-grade hit tool and 65-grade power tool according to MLB Pipeline scouts, his only slight being a swing and miss problem that doesn’t concern most. Expect him to further prove himself in the SEC after transferring from the PAC-12 (Arizona).
As Berry looks to demonstrate that he’s the #1 college bat, he’ll also be showcasing his defense for the first time after being the designated hitter for all but 9 games last spring. Although his primary position is listed as third base, he’s been playing outfield to start the 2022 season. Berry’s lack of experience in the field shouldn’t scare anyone away, it’s a moot point when you consider his talent at the plate.
The Nats have the luxury, or lack thereof, of having thin prospect depth in most positions. So, a guy like Berry – who has no true position – can fit into any spot his development takes him. A reassuring aspect of his offense-first game.
No. 5 – SS Brooks Lee, Cal Poly
One of the most well-rounded college hitters in the draft, Brooks Lee is a switch-hitting shortstop who screams high ceiling. He missed time in 2020 due to injury but bounced back strong in 2021 with a co-Big West Player of the Year honor and an incredible summer in the Cape Cod League.
Lee probably won’t be taken as high as 5th but has unquantifiable traits to compliment his elite tools that could put him in the conversation. He’s a fun player to watch and will make a considerable contribution to whatever organization he’s drafted to.
No. 6 – 2B Jace Jung, Texas Tech
Brother of Rangers’ No. 2 prospect, Josh Jung – Jace is ready to make a name for himself in professional baseball. Scouts have given him a 60-grade for his hit and power tools, which is considered “plus” on the 20-80 scale – Baseball America equates 60-grade to Stephen Strasburg’s command.
Last season, Jung hit 21 bombs with a 1.159 OPS in 208 at bats while walking more times than striking out, earning him the Big 12 Player of the Year award. The lefty slugger continues to prove that he’s an elite bat with the tools of a future all-star.
Jace Jung would be my choice for a few reasons; he adds near-ready infield depth to the system, he has a disciplined approach to compliment his big bat, and he’s just a strong, athletic prospect who exemplifies a baseball player. Get excited about him.
No. 7 – OF Brock Jones, Stanford
A two-sport athlete when he first got to Stanford, Brock Jones is revered as an outstanding athlete who has a rare combination of top-level speed and power. Although Jones has quit football to focus on baseball, his time as a safety has translated into his ability to track flyballs in the outfield and continues to impress on defense.
At the plate, he gets credit for an all-fields approach while showing the ability to draw walks and keep his strikeout percentage on the low side. In 2021, he slashed .311/.453/.646 with 18 homers and 14 stolen bags in an excellent PAC-12 conference.
The Nationals probably won’t take Jones so high in the draft, barring a Bonds-like spring, but he’s a top prospect for a reason and shouldn’t be written off as a possibility.
No. 8 – OF Chase DeLauter, James Madison
Physically speaking, Chase DeLauter is ready to play Major League baseball, standing at 6-foot-4, 235-pounds. He impressed in 2021, slashing .386/.508/.723 in the spring, then following it up with 9 homers during a strong summer in the wood bat only, Cape Cod League.
There are questions regarding just how inflated his numbers are from the not-so-great pitching of the Colonial Athletic Conference, but his raw tools are too impressive to write-off. A big 2022 could be enough to prove that his bat is legit. If I were Mike Rizzo, I would take a good look at DeLauter’s tools and production before passing up on him, depending on who’s available at the 5th pick.