Spring Training Top-30 prospects rankings

The Washington Nationals have the best outfield prospects in all of baseball with Dylan Crews and James Wood as Baseball Prospectus ranked the pair at №5 and №7 respectively of baseball’s best prospects. Third baseman Brady House is ranked №69, and RHP Cade Cavalli at №85 by BP to round out all of the Nats’ top-100 prospects. Falling off the list were outfielders Elijah Green and Robert Hassell III.

What we take a look at today is our rankings of the Top-30 prospects in the Washington Nationals system based on upside potential. Crews and Wood might as well be tied for first as their potential is off the charts. These rankings are always subject to debate and are subjective. Timing is also everything. Just three years ago when the farm system was ranked last in baseball, a player like Trey Lipscomb, ranked 15th here, would have been a Top-5 back then. All of these Top-30 players have tools that standout enough to believe any one of them could be a future star.

Our biggest movers up the rankings were Jacob Young, Daylen Lile, and of course newcomers like Victor Hurtado and Angel Feliz who were just acquired as international free agents. Loud tools are important and Young and Lile have some distinct tools. Young with speed, defense, and the ability to work walks, and Lile has shown elite bat-to-ball skills, speed, and with solid defense. Both of them need to show some more power.

For Young, he got to flash his tools on the MLB diamond as a callup for his MLB debut at the end of August. Almost immediately he had a walk-off single, and showed his elite speed swiping bases — and never getting caught. His defense was also elite in center field. Young’s singles and walks seemed to turn into two-baggers as he got on-base 37 times and 35 percent of the time stole the extra base. If we took 13 of Young’s 20 singles, and calculated them as doubles for those stolen bases, his SLG would have been .514 instead of .336, and a hefty .836 OPS. His value of wreaking havoc on the bases, and flashing elite leather in center field makes him a player to keep an eye on. Some have compared him to a young Trea Turner, and keep in mind that Young went to the University of Florida out of high school as a middle infielder.

After the 2023 season, the Nationals parted ways with De Jon Watson and promoted Eddie Longosz to the VP of Player Development role. Both the team and Longosz have a lot riding on getting the farm system back on track as it stepped backwards under Watson. The team graduated no top prospects last year, and only added to the system with the draft of Crews, and trading for DJ Herz — yet Baseball America dropped the Nats’ farm system back to №9 which was down two spots. Most of the decline was due to prospects who moved backwards in the system, and the system feels top-heavy right now.

“Just needs to be consistent. … The sky’s the limit with Elijah, and it really is. But it’s maintaining that contact and getting the strikeouts down. The power is obviously there. Don’t sleep on Elijah –because it’s going to work out for him for sure.”

— Longosz on Elijah Green

If it feels like Longosz is an optimist, that would be because he is. Green and Hassell and others have to step it back up. These are former first round picks, and Green was taken with the highly coveted fifth pick overall by the Nationals just two year ago. Green just turned 20 last month and still isn’t old enough to buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate anything. He is a specimen of an athlete, and the son of former All-Pro tight end Eric Green of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There is no wonder why Green is the hardest worker in the system. But at the end of the day, it just comes down to executing, and his K rate of 41.9% at the entry level of A-ball won’t cut it unless he had the OPS of Adam Dunn. Green’s OPS was only .629 at Fredericksburg this past year.

For Hassell, his power seemed to evaporate with only a .324 SLG at his time in Double-A Harrisburg last year. At the end of the 2022 season, Hassell fractured his hamate bone which explains why he might have struggled with the power. Looking at his High-A power in 2022 at San Diego’s Ft. Wayne affiliate, the bat was potent with a .467 slugging line. This will be Hassell’s year to show that it was all about the hamate injury. In recent videos from the batting cage, he is holding his hands lower with the bat and setting up with the bat over his left shoulder instead of behind his neck.

The most to prove will be Green and Hassell as they both struggled in 2023. There is also a key quartet of pitchers recovering from major surgeries with Cavalli, Jake Bennett, and Zach Brzykcy all on the mend from UCL elbow surgeries, and Cole Henry from the dreaded thoracic outlet syndrome surgery.

So yes, Longosz and his staff will have their work cut out for them with multiple challenges. Every team deals with this in perpetual motion. As aforementioned, the Nats graduated no top prospects as Cavalli was injured for the full season and maintained his prospect status, and Young and Drew Millas did not exceed the limits on their MLB callups. Pitchers Jose Ferrer and Thaddeus Ward achieved rookie status during the 2023 season.

Several of the Nats’ prospects will get invitations to big league camp in Spring Training as non-roster invitees (NRI). Can any of the top prospects push their way onto the opening day roster for March 28? That would be the theory of the ‘Best-26’ go north! We will see. Nasim Nuñez is the one player, as a Rule-5 draftee, who must make the Nats’ opening day roster or else be subject to return to his previous team, the Miami Marlins.

Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus are the first ranking services to publish their first 2024 top prospect rankings for the pre-season. Expect numbers soon from MLB Pipeline, FanGraphs, Prospects Live, Keith Law at The Athletic, and Kiley McDaniel at ESPN.

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