When the Washington Nationals traded away Max Scherzer and Trea Turner last summer, they moved into a new era in their franchise’s history. After dealing away two of their top stars, the Nationals are relying heavily on their semi-rebuilt farm system to carry the organization in the coming years.
Last week, some of Washington’s top prospects that will headline the rebuild received the honor of being listed in Fangraphs’ Top 100 Prospects list for the 2022 season. Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, and Brady House all cracked the top 100.
Cavalli, the 23-year-old right-hander, was the highest of any National coming in at number 74. Cavalli performed well last season, working his way up from High-A all the way to Triple-A by the season’s end. Despite this, FanGraphs does not seem to believe the hard-throwing righty has a long-term future as a starting pitcher. Here’s what they had to say about Cavalli.
After going in the first round of the truncated 2020 draft, Cavalli climbed through the Nationals system last season, starting the year at High-A and closing it out at Triple-A. Across those three levels, he combined for a 33.5% strikeout rate while walking 11.5% of opposing batters for a 1.26 WHIP. He posted double-digits in the K-column on six occasions, including 15 strikeouts in seven innings of work in what would end up being his last game at High-A. But his strikeout rate fell as he moved up (44.9% at High-A, 32.9% at Double-A, 19.8% at Triple-A), undoubtedly due to the more advanced approaches of the hitters he was facing. He only gave up six home runs all season, and on only one occasion did he allow two in a single game, when Triston Casas and Franchy Cordero went back-to-back against him in his second-to-last start at Triple-A.
Cavalli certainly looks the part of a domineering starter and he adds to that impression with a four-pitch mix. But his college injury track record, combined with a violent arm action, waters down his profile, making it somewhat harder to see how he can sustain it as his innings count increases. We project him as more of a high-leverage ‘pen arm, one who could be up with the big-league squad as soon as late 2022.
Coming in just eight spots below Cavalli was 22-year-old right-hander Cole Henry. Fangraphs also projects the former LSU product as a reliever. Here’s what they had to say about Henry.
Often referred to as the third member of Washington’s up-and-coming Big Three along with Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge, Henry put up a 38.7% strikeout rate in High-A in 2021 against 6.7% walks. But there’s a catch: he only pitched 43 innings there (plus another three on the complex), missing an 11-week span from May to August with elbow inflammation. It’s particularly concerning given the upper arm and elbow injuries that shortened his freshman year at LSU, but when he did come back in August, he looked every bit as deadly as he had in the earlier part of the season. His two-seamer sat in the mid-90s, while his four-seamer was a notch faster at 95-98 mph and tunneled with a low-80s changeup with enough arm-side fade to inspire goofy swings from both sides of the plate. His arm action is still long and violent, and his head whack causes his hat to fly off so frequently we wonder if he’s angling for a shampoo endorsement. But Head and Shoulders aside, he’s improved his command over all of his offerings. 2022 will be an important test of his ability to stay healthy, and if he does, he could be ready for a rapid climb through the system.
Coming in at No. 98, the final National prospect on the list, is 18-year-old infielder, Brady House. The Nationals’ first-round pick from last season dominated during his time with the FCL Nats, slashing .322/.394/.576 with 4 home runs, 12 RBIs, and a .970 OPS. Fangraphs seems to be higher on House than any of the Nationals’ other prospects, projecting he will turn into an All-Star-level bat someday. Here’s what they had to say about House.
House was one of the more famous prep bats entering the spring of 2021, and his track record of hitting against advanced pitching on the showcase circuit trumped an up-and-down senior season and put him in the mix with several teams picking early in the draft. It was a bit of a surprise, then, to see him drop to 11th overall to Washington, but only five first-round picks garnered higher bonus figures, and House followed his signing with an outstanding performance in the Complex League. House’s biggest supporters had him as the best high school hitter in the country, with some putting plus grades on both his hit and power tools. Nobody disputes the power, which is plenty now and projects for even more down the road, but the pure bat-to-ball skill was the subject of much debate in draft rooms, with as many scouts putting out 40-45 grades (pointing at a long swing and some plate coverage issues) as there were putting out the above-average grades as described above. At 6-foot-4 and already in the neighborhood of 220 pounds, House is built like an NFL linebacker, but is also quite athletic for his size, and while he debuted at his high school position of shortstop, he projects as a solid defensive third baseman with a plus or better arm. His 16-game showing in the Complex League, during which he put up a .970 OPS, should give the Nationals comfort in sending House out to a full-season affiliate this spring.