Amidst this lost season, we’ve watched TalkNats faithful transform like never before into avid followers of the farm. For years, Luke Erickson at Nationals Prospects has lit the lamp with “Last Night in Hagerstown,” and “Good, Bad, Interesting” takes merging the statistical with what Mike Rizzo calls the “eye test.” This year, Alex Hill, our own resident college hurler, joined the fun on this site for his regular updates of baby Nats nightly feats.
Those of us who are old Expos fans, sadly, are not new to this party at all. Watching Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, John Wetteland, Jeff Reardon, Andres Galarraga, Tim Raines, Tim Wallach, Larry Walker, Vladimir Guerrero, Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou and others leave town as their contracts expired routinely inspired us to hope in the next generation of Expos development. And over the years, our torment with Expos near misses, and stars who left town, eventually evolved into hope which was often rewarded with the Vladdy who followed the Larry. Until, of course, Jeffrey (the Psychopath) Loria left town after running the franchise into the ground and in a final coup de grace, essentially stole the minor league prospect database for the Marlins benefit.
So you will pardon me for my resilient optimism in the face of the Soto trade; I never remember the Expos getting return like that received from San Diego, and all too readily do remember the slow agonizing goodbyes of the players we knew would not stay, and were headed to free agency. Nothing hurt me as much as the departure of Vladimir Guerrero; it was the final dagger in the death of the franchise, a player we all knew was headed to the Hall of Fame just as surely as well all feel about Juan Soto.
The dawn of tomorrow has been kindled by pundits moving the Nationals needle to a top-10 prospect organization. As Steve and my few buddies here know of me, I’ve always had a particular distaste for the pundits and how we rely upon them to suspend our own independent thinking (after all, how long do we have to take seriously people who are calling Yasel Antuna a top-5 organizational prospect?) The people on this board, and Todd Boss’ and Luke’s board – especially my old Expos pal Jeff – have every bit as judgment and more about the helium in our midst.
It has occurred to me that the surge of the San Diego 5 (Robert Hassell III, James Wood, MacKenzie Gore, C.J. Abrams, and Jarlin Susana) into the organization has obscured what would customarily be a rite reserved for August. Namely, a good hard look at the recent draftees and where they fit into the top lists. Because every year, and recent years more than most, Nationals draftees — beyond the number ones — ripple with their own buzz (at least they should!).
But that’s not what this article is about. I’ve been watching this season as I always do, and find myself watching people who are not talked about (much) in the punditry, but who may be, like Susana, emerging into long term major league relevance. And so I share with you glimmers that may bode well for coming years and are kids that are growing up quite nicely, be they under-appreciated or not. They’re underdiscussed relative to the folks on the top lists or top of the stat sheets. But don’t sleep on them. I’m not rating them by design – think for yourself! Who are those evolving into value, and who into gemstones?
Adrian Ogando – The secret sauce is not yet disclosed, but there are a lot of new names in the FCL whose excellent pitching performances best explain the team’s performance, the best in nine years. Ogando signed into the organization only a year ago, and had a marginal DSL run. Still, he earned a promotion this year, and has been a revelation throwing multiple innings – as much as five in a game. After immediately earning transfer to the FCL from only one DSL outing, Ogando has consistently allowed very few baserunners, whether by hit or by walk, and only one earned run all year. Not surprisingly, his ERA in a miniscule .31. Not bad for an 18 year old, and one who measures 6’2, 190.
Gabriel Agostini – A lefty starter and stateside before his recent 18th birthday, Agostini followed up a brilliant 16-year-old campaign in the DSL with sparkling early efforts before more recent struggles. Still, he shows nice numbers against righties and with men on base, which he demonstrated last year in the DSL. And like this year, his rougher patches show up later in the year, lending to the impression that with strength training, his conditioning will hold up as his innings do, as he grows into adulthood. For now, he has the look of a guy we will be seeing in full season Fredericksburg in 2023 at age 18 against former collegians.
Roismar Quintana – The FCL is not where we typically see Nationals youngsters display power, but Quintana is up to four home runs at age 19. And while Fangraphs was dim on his hit tool, he is on a tear for well over a month. Quintana also has monster plate numbers with two outs and runners in scoring position, and has been playing both right field and center. Yesterday he was tested by getting hit by pitches twice after hitting a home run. With the flux of draft talent coming in, it’s safe to say he’ll be up to Fredericksburg any day now to share time with James Wood, T.J. White, and Jacob Young, and Christopher De La Cruz.
Viandel Pena – A little young man with a massive lower body, Pena’s emerging pop catches the eye. But with 30 of 33 stolen bases already, he shows as a multidimensional middle infielder who has a high baseball IQ and is ripening his game nicely. Primarily a second baseman, his defense and range have improved as well in his second go-round of A ball at age 21. That’s more like what we hoped for after his breakout 2019 in the FCL, before he tailed off as part of the historically bad 2021 Fredericksburg team.
Jose Cedeno – Measuring in at 6’3 170, the 20 year-old Cedeno is in the middle of a torrid two year run now playing out in long relief in West Palm. In 2021, he statistically dominated the DSL, to the tune of a WHIP of .74 and 11.3 K/9 IP, which melikey from a starting pitcher. Now pitching in long relief in 2022 in the FCL, Cedeno’s walks are up, but he is allowing less than 5 hits per 9IP. He’s getting stretched out to join a starting rotation before long.
Jose Atencio – The 20 year-old right-hander carried a track record of outstanding control into the Florida from the DSL, and continued his success in the FCL rotation in 2022. Recently promoted to A ball, Atencio has only seven walks in 35 plus innings in 2022.
Pablo Aldonis – Lefty starters do get more love. Even so, Aldonis was signed from the Dominican Republic as the fastest track starting pitcher of his Nationals’ international class and was included among the favored prospects in the instructional league. He has not disappointed in his first year on the pro mound, as the Nationals challenged him by skipping the DSL Aldonis earned a bump to Fredericksburg recently, where he has put up even more impressive numbers before being sidelined with an injury. At 20, he has a lot of road ahead of him to lower the frequency of his gopher balls.
Alex Troop – Ever since he joined the Nationals as a ninth round pick in 2017, with the pedigree of a two way player with low arm mileage, Troop has inched his way up the ladder and offered enough to anticipate his continuing rise. Most of his work has come in the form of multi-inning relief; a role no doubt reinforced by his missing time for Tommy John surgery and its recovery. As we became acquainted with him, Troop has flashed exceptional control. Now at AA, Troop is finally starting, and the lefty is continuing to produce. It would be great to look forward to Troop starting 2023 in AAA as we establish organizational rotation depth that has more to offer than yesterday’s castoff.
Israel Pineda – Since he debuted with extra base power at age 17 and as part of the hyped top of the 2017 international class, Pineda has done no more than occasionally tease a higher ceiling. Long respected for controlling the running game, his bat has lagged and with it, his prospects. When Millas, Adams, and of course, Ruiz came to town, things faded for the still-only 22 year-old Venezuelan. A healthier second act in Wilmington and a struggling year for Millas provided opportunity for Pineda, and after his promotion to Harrisburg, he has taken to AA with verve and a powerful and productive bat. The rest of the year affords opportunity for Pineda to register as a man of the future in a class that famously produced Luis Garcia rather than the more anticipated Antuna. We’d love to relive the joys of our last great Venezuelan backstop with a big bat.
Lucas Knowles – A well thought of college lefthander, Knowles was one fish the Nationals pulled away from an SEC scholarship and into the boat in the fourteenth round of the 2019 draft. Since then, he’s seemingly been tucked away at the training complexes or, when apparently healthy, otherwise residing on the periphery of the team’s plans. This year at Wilmington, however, Knowles has assumed an increasingly visible presence, and increasingly in the starting rotation. His most recent outing was five innings, lending hope that the best is yet to come from the 24 year old.
Richard Guasch – Not everyone that the Nationals are invested in gets a long leash in the starting rotation. After getting hammered and showing poor command at Harrisburg, the acquisition from Oakland in the Gomes-Harrison trade returned to Wilmington, righted the ship with his control, and has been handling higher leverage relief pitching, and well. Yes, he is 24, but all is not lost.
Zach Brzycky – A statistical contender for Nats’ 2022 minor league pitcher of the year, Brzycky came into the organization as a local boy post-Covid undrafted free agent and has impressed from day one. This year he has left his ups and dowsn behind and torched through Wilmington before taking his closing act to Harrisburg and improving further still. His rise, and the Nationals struggles and needs, raise the possibility that he outraces and outpaces the Matt Cronin and Holden Powell types enough to be the coming future of the backend of the Nats pen.
Marlon Perez – Cuban baseball imports carry the unique cache of a wrapped Willy Wonka bar. There are just enough Aroldis Chapmans that organizations may get exuberant to the end of flushing coin down a Rusney Castillo commode, hoping they have found Yoan Moncada. But the dreaming is fun. And hey, we waited a while, but now 200,000 dollar signee Yadi Hernandez has his own fan club in session. The Nationals don’t often dust off the Cuban visas, but Perez joined the organization out of the blue this year. The mystery, for me, worked. And Perez has acclimated to his first year of American pro ball with the kind of work that will get him to Wilmington this year, hopefully, based on the needed upward mobility from the FCL. With no earned runs in his last 13 outings, Perez has 24 strikeouts and only 3 walks in that 18 inning span. More Marlon on the menu, please.
Sammy Infante – He was thought to have been a reach pick when the Nationals drafted him in the second round. At 21 in Fredericksburg as its third baseman playing alongside a first round savior in the House, he is still striking out way way too much. But Sammy Infante’s power has come up in a big way, to the tune of 16 HR and 32 XBH, that can no longer be dismissed, along with feet fleet enough for 14 steals.
Brayan Romero, Camilo Sanchez, Jefrem Leon — in-year promotions from the original DSL squad to the FCL are unusual, especially among those players who are new to the Nationals. But the above new adds have advanced to the stage at West Palm. None of the three yet stands out in particular from performance, so we’ll see who emerges and when and then have a better feel for what the fuss is about. The draftees coming in are more position players, and the younger graduation of the Latinos a welcome sign from the DiPuglia sector.
Darren Baker – People like to make fun of Rizzo and his penchant for bloodlines. But a player like Baker then comes along at has a feel for the game that you know came from somewhere. His top of the order production was noticed for the Futures game. He’s not only the first 2021 to get to Harrisburg, he’s holding his own and showing great plate selectivity.
Will Frizzell – The 6’5 first baseman went from a big SEC year at Texas A&M to the Nationals in the 8th round in 2021. He’s been placed in the rookie leagues and played sparingly, yet hit. Only recently did he arrive in Fredericksburg, just in time to meet other new draftees from a year later. The tea leaves have the look of a player who battled injuries and perhaps 2021 fatigue. Will the needed bop emerge with more burn? As we all know, the system is in need of its first base prospects, especially with more hyped (Boras) products like Drew Mendoza fading at launch and the opportunities at Wilmington and higher.
Jacob Young – Perhaps it’s hard to get excited over an outfielder who just turned 23 and is still in Fredericksburg. But he was a rising star in the SEC when drafted in 2021, was signed over slot, has 8 triples and 34 stolen bases already, showing better and better plate selectivity, and I find myself watching closely to see how far he can elevate enough to be relevant. He may be the player the Nationals always wanted Cody Wilson to be.
Who are you dreaming on? Enjoy the elixir from the Expos days; it doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s the best of hope – because it’s the ideas you develop for your own thinking and re-thinking and enriching with the endless data points now available to tantalize us about what the players show us now, and what they will become.
With lots of season left, you know where I’m headed – back to West Palm to watch the train before it leaves for Frederickburg!