Sure, the Washington Nationals calendar will be loaded with bobblehead giveaways and other ballpark trinkets, but the most important dates have to do with the game on the field. Chief among them is the draft which starts on July 9, and that should net the Nats an immediate Top-25 prospect in all of baseball given that evaluators feel that the top-2 prospects are at the elite level. The rest of the calendar is about playing baseball and developing the players to progress.
While there has certainly been a fair amount of criticism of the Nats’ inability to develop players in the past, they always were able to take top prospects like Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon and get them to elite levels. Sure, you could say they were elite before they were drafted, but also give some credit for Juan Soto and even Trea Turner who came to the Nats as a top prospect in a minor league trade. Sans Harper, those other four players were key pieces in the 2019 World Series win.
To turn the page, this Nats’ development system has been almost fully reconstructed over the past year under the direction of De Jon Watson. This is where all of the magma is in the creation of this new core of elite players that will carry this team into the next championship run. Some would say that is all wishful thinking. I would say this is the right way to build a sustainable championship team. Of course the Mets and Phillies are trying it a different way by trying to spend their way to a World Series trophy, but conventional wisdom has been to build a long-term winner through your minor league system and finish the roster with key pieces through trades and free agency.
Without an accurate crystal ball, it is impossible to predict what will happen in the next five World Series. All you can do is stick to a plan that has worked in the past, and that is what general manager Mike Rizzo is doing. He has not only been picking up top prospects organically and through trades, but also through waiver claims.
MLB Pipeline’s 2021 Top 100 Prospects list included:
#6 MacKenzie Gore
#8 CJ Abrams
#49 Jeter Downs
#57 Keibert Ruiz
#58 Josiah Gray
#62 Robert Hassell III
#99 Cade Cavalli
These guys are all Nationals now. It’s ok to be excited about this team.
— Minor League Sports Town (@DCSportsCast) February 8, 2023
Some would say not all top prospects become elite players, and there are elite players who weren’t top prospects. Both of those statements are true which is why you want to keep developing as many top prospects as you can. That has been a formula that the Dodgers have used over the last decade, and it has kept them as a viable team in the postseason hunt every year.
Yes, cyclicality and sustaining that winning culture is not easy — as the Nats found out. While some forget the facts, the Nats fell apart in 2021 with Strasburg, Soto, Turner, and Max Scherzer, all on the roster. And for those who can’t let go of the fact that Rendon walked after the 2019 season, he’s been injured for parts of the three years since he signed with the Angels and has a combined .252 batting average. As JCCinDC noted, “he’s only played 105 of 324 games the last two seasons and has only been worth 1 WAR (by FG or BR) in those two seasons.” Could you imagine having his $35 million a year for a 33 year old player combined with Strasburg’s $35 million a year?
The truth is, often the best laid plans do not work out, but those who expend so much time complaining about the past, miss out on enjoying the future. Again, there are no guarantees. What is guaranteed in life? Not much. Put your best efforts forward and hope for the best. That is all that the fans can do. We have ridden on that rollercoaster of ineptitude before, and this is not fun. We all want to win. Life is more fun when you’re winning. But again, life isn’t fair, and in sports half the teams win and the other half loses on any given day. That is just the reality. Enjoy the ride. Hope springs eternal.