MLB 26-and-under power rankings: No. 18 Washington Nationals – Trending News

MLB 26-and-under power rankings: No. 18 Washington Nationals


FOX Sports’ 26-and-under power rankings are a new spin on the classic prospect rankings. Yes, prospects are important, but with all the game-changing young talent already in the bigs, farm systems alone can’t tell the whole story. So we’re diving deep into every single MLB club, ranking them all by the players in an organization entering their age-26 season or younger — from the bigs to the farm. Each weekday through March 24, we’ll count down from last to first. 

No. 18 Washington Nationals
26-and-under total score: 15 (out of 30) 

Few teams in MLB history have come tumbling down the mountaintop of a championship into the depths of a rebuild faster than the Nationals. It was a legitimate speedrun of first-to-worst, 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 lifted the Commissioner’s Trophy just three years prior. 

Nearly every primary contributor from the 2019 squad has either been traded (Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner), left in free agency (Anthony Rendon), regressed in shocking fashion (Patrick Corbin), been unable to avoid injury (Stephen Strasburg), or retired (Ryan Zimmerman, Howie Kendrick, Brian Dozier, Adam Eaton).

While Washington is projected to finish at or near the bottom of the National League once again, there is reason for optimism long term. Their collection of under-26 talent checks in just below-average, but there are some promising players that could look like no-doubt foundational pieces a year from now.

Big-league position players: 4 (out of 10)

Before we dive into the actual building blocks of the next good Nationals team, we must take a moment to acknowledge that the only starting position player left from the 2019 team also incredibly still qualifies for this under-26 list: Victor Robles. Once a consensus top-10 prospect in all of MLB, Robles was arguably even more hyped than Soto before his fellow outfielder took the baseball world by storm in 2018. Since then, Robles’ elite defense in center field has sustained but his bat has been completely stuck in the mud, drastically limiting his overall value. 

Robles remains the projected starting center fielder for now, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to be a core contributor moving forward. On that front, the names to monitor closely over the next few years are shortstop CJ Abrams and catcher Keibert Ruiz, each key parts of the returns in the Soto and Scherzer/Turner trades respectively. A switch-hitter with elite bat-to-ball skills that can catch is an awfully valuable piece, but early returns suggest Ruiz may not have as much usable power as many originally projected for him. His ability to ramp up the slugging in coming years will go a long way to determining his ultimate ceiling. 

Speaking of ceiling, Abrams’ ridiculous physical tools headlined by his elite speed may still manifest into him being one of the more exciting shortstops in the league. For now, he’s tasked with refining his raw skills at the plate and in the field. He didn’t spend a ton of time in the minors but the Nationals appear keen on rolling with him in the majors and trusting he’ll figure it out in due time. It’s a tough assignment, but the pure talent here is still tremendous. 

As for homegrown players, infielder Luis García is barely older than Abrams and has demonstrated an impressive hit tool for his age, albeit with below-average defense at second base and questionable on-base skills. To put it simply, the dude just doesn’t draw walks. Abrams is similar in this respect, and this flaw in both players’ skill sets may continue to be exposed by big-league arms.  

Looking at the depth chart beyond Abrams and Garcia, the Nationals have three under-26 players who are several years removed from having significant prospect pedigree, but whose youth still qualify them as possible reclamation projects: Carter Kieboom, Jeter Downs and Lucius Fox. Washington’s developmental track record doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence for the future of this trio, but each could realistically get big-league opportunities in 2023 to prove otherwise. 

Big-league pitchers: 5 (out of 10)

MacKenzie Gore and Josiah Gray were the headliners on the pitching side of the blockbuster Soto and Scherzer/Turner trades, with Gore coming over 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 to consider. He now needs 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’s yet to figure out exactly how to command and weaponize it, which was borne out in him allowing a league-high 66 walks and 38 home runs in 2022. The ingredients are still here for Gray to be a strikeout-heavy mid-rotation starter, but refinement will be necessary. 

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 calmed the hype considerably, but this is still a wildly talented 24-year-old with some of the best stuff you’ll see from a southpaw starter. He’ll get every chance in 2023 to remind everyone why he was such a big deal 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 the pure stuff has never been in question. His electric high-90s fastball headlines a deep arsenal of impressive secondary pitches, enabling him to rack up the whiffs and avoid hard contact. His impressive physical build screams workhorse, but he’s dealt with injuries since moving to the mound full time in college. He’s been largely healthy as a pro, but we’ll see how well he holds up over 30-plus MLB starts. 

Prospect position players: 4 (out of 5)

While our criteria generally prefers prospects with closer proximity to the big leagues, Washington’s eye-popping collection of high-upside lower-level talent was enough to earn them a high score in this category anyway. Arguably no farm system in baseball boasts more can’t-buy-a-beer-yet-aged position players worth dreaming big on than the Nationals. James Wood, the most important part of the Soto return, is a 6-foot-7 outfielder with spectacular hitting aptitude and athletic grace that barely seems possible for someone so big and so young. He very well may be the best prospect in baseball a year from now. 

While Wood might be the safest bet to be a future superstar, 2022 first-round pick Elijah Green’s upside is nearly unmatched among outfield prospects in the low minors. The son of former NFL tight end Eric Green, he’s got plus to plus-plus tools across the board. His contact ability is the only thing in question — he’ll look to quiet those doubts in his first full pro season in 2023. Add in 2021 first-round pick Brady House (considered an elite amateur prospect for years leading up to his draft) and 18-year-old Dominican outfielder Cristhian Vaquero (received the highest signing bonus in his international signing class), and it’s not hard to imagine this being one of the strongest overall farm systems in baseball in short order.

Bolstering this remarkable group is outfielder Robert Hassell, who did turn 21 last summer and has reached Double-A, which none of the others can say just yet. Hassell was also part of the Soto deal and doesn’t have nearly the power potential of Wood or Green, but he can play center field and has had a plus hit tool dating all the way back to when his Tennessee team was in the Little League World Series. 

Prospect pitchers: 2 (out of 5)

This is a thin group, with most of the names likely ticketed for the bullpen. Cole Henry, a 2020 second-round pick, might compete for a starting role by 2024. Beyond him, keep an eye on Rule 5 pick Thad Ward, hard-throwing undrafted free-agent signing Zach Brzykcy and 2022 breakout lefty Jose Ferrer as possible impact relievers in the near future. Former first-round pick Jackson Rutledge could also be best-suited for relief responsibilities. 

As with the position player prospects, the name to really focus on is found in the lower minors: 18-year-old righty Jarlin Susana, who might just be the hardest-throwing teenager the world has ever seen. That’s not an exaggeration.

Generally, pitchers that are that big and throw that hard that young are as risky as they come, so it’s a long road ahead for Susana to actualize into a useful big leaguer. But he sure is fun to watch, and the Nationals may just have something special in him for years to come.

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball for his entire adult life, most notably for, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he loves a good 10 p.m. first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_. 

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