The Nats Major League roster isn’t giving us a whole lot of hope recently, so I figured it might be a good idea to check on the next wave of players who might make their way to DC. Obviously all eyes are on Cade Cavalli, who should make his major league debut later this year, and Brady House. But I wanted to take a look at some possibly lesser known prospects in the farm system. Using MLB.com’s Prospect Rankings, let’s take a look at some of what I think are the most overrated and underrated prospects in the Nats farm system right now:
Jackson Rutledge (#4)
Season Stats: 7 GS, 7.43 ERA, 23 IP, 20 K, 9 BB
It’s not that I don’t think Rutledge has a chance to make the Major Leagues, because I do. His stuff is really good, and standing in at 6’8, his high-90s fastball must get on hitters very quick. With that said, injuries have derailed his career so far and when he has been healthy, he’s gotten hit around pretty hard and has had an issue with walks. He throws a 4-pitch mix which gives him a chance to stick as a starter, but my gut says at this point that his ceiling is as a closer. There he could utilize his two best pitches, his fastball and slider, and focus on his control. Probably not what the Nats had in mind when they drafted him in the first round in 2019, but that’s where we are.
Gerardo Carrillo (#7)
Season Stats: 4 G, 12.60 ERA, 5 IP, 6 K, 2.20 WHIP
Looking at Carrillo’s numbers after the Nats acquired him in the Max Scherzer/Trea Turner deal, I was pretty impressed. The thing is, the Dodgers are good at developing pitching and the Nats are not. Carrillo posted a 5.59 ERA and 1.65 WHIP after coming over from LA in 8 starts in AA last season. This year, the Nats decided to move Carrillo to the bullpen in hopes that he would be able to gain some more command over his pitches and possibly fast track him to the Majors (he’ll turn 24 in September and is already on the 40-man roster). He’s been on the IL since April with shoulder discomfort which hasn’t helped his case. Carrillo throws a mid-upper 90s fastball that can touch 100 on occasion as well as a grade 60 slider. That two pitch mix alone could get him to the Majors quickly once he gets healthy. The problem is, he has big time command issues. He walked 4 batters in 5 innings this season and walked 50 in 96 ⅓ innings last season. This is a similar situation to Jackson Rutledge in that I think Carrillo is a Major Leaguer, but with him looking like a bullpen arm with questionable command, I don’t view him as the Nats 7th best prospect.
Yasel Antuna (#11)
Season Stats: .238/.373/.391, 7 HR, 29 RBI, 17 SB
Antuna signed with the Nats for $3.9 million during the same international signing period as the Nats signed Luis Garcia. Well, Garcia is with the Nats and Antuna is….not even close. He was added to the 40-man roster over the offseason so he was protected against the Rule 5 draft (which obviously never happened). He signed as a shortstop but has been playing primarily LF this season due to his defensive shortcomings. He has some power in his swing, but he’s an incredibly streaky hitter (he’s currently on a hot streak, actually). Injuries and the shortened 2020 season have led to a delay in Antuna’s development. I wouldn’t write him off quite yet, but at this point, I don’t see him being much of a contributor for the Nats in the future.
Jackson Cluff (#21)
Season Stats: .167/.246/.247, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 46% K%
Full disclosure, I’ve never been a big fan of Cluff. He’s a glove first shortstop, which isn’t a bad thing, but he was taken in the 6th round back in 2019. His ceiling as a utility infielder with a low-upside bat didn’t justify that if you ask me. Cluff is already 25 years old, struggled at the plate in AA last year and is struggling mightily again at the plate in AA so far this year. There’s just not much there if you ask me. He’s just not a top 30 prospect within the organization.
Jordy Barley (#27)
Season Stats: .200/.256/.286, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 17 SB
Just like Cluff, Barley probably doesn’t belong on the organization’s top 30 prospect list either. The thing about Barley is there are numerous scouts who have said he has the tools to become a Major League player, he’s just been unable to put them all together at once. He’s shown flashes of power. His fielding is generally good enough to stick in the infield. He has near elite speed (he stole 45 bases last year). But overall, he just hasn’t been able to be consistent enough to put together a strong showing in the minors, which is why the Padres were ok with moving on from him at the deadline last year.
Cole Henry (#3)
Season Stats: 9 GS, 1.71 ERA, 31 ⅔ IP, 34 K, 0.79 WHIP
I know this seems silly because he’s ranked as the Nats #3 prospect. But MLB Pipeline doesn’t have him rated as one of MLB’s top 100 prospects (that will likely change for their mid-season rankings) and many see him being a good distance behind Cade Cavalli. I don’t though. Henry was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2020 draft (the same draft that netted Cavalli) and he was seen as a first round talent at the time. The Nats went over-slot to sign him and they might be about ready to reap the benefits of that. The only thing holding Henry back is his injury history. He’s posted a 2.06 ERA through 20 games (19 starts) in his minor league career. He’s sporting a 1.71 ERA through 9 starts in AA and AAA so far this season. He throws a 3 pitch mix and get this — control isn’t an issue for Henry. Call me crazy, but I think he’s the safest bet to have success in DC of all of the Nats pitching prospects.
Daylen Lile (#9)
Season Stats: .219/.363/.250, 19 G, 10 RBI, 15 BB
Lile was the Nats 2nd round pick in 2021 and is out for the remainder of the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in April. Many scouts see him as a bat-first fourth outfielder, but I think he’s got a chance to turn into a Michael Brantley type outfielder. He’s definitely a bat-first guy and has some of the best bat to ball skills in the organization. He has a good eye at the plate and if he can develop some power and become a 15-20 HR type guy, he should be able to become a regular in the Nats lineup by 2024-2025.
Matt Cronin (#12)
Season Stats: 21 G, 2.61 ERA, 24 IP, 33 K, 1.04 WHIP
I know it might be a bit funny to have him here considering he’s struggled in AAA so far this year (8.22 ERA in 7 ⅔ innings), but I still think Cronin is the Nats closer of the future. He’s a LHP with a dominant fastball and a plus curveball. Like many other Nats pitching prospects, he needs to work on his control. Once he starts pounding the zone more, I’d expect him to be in DC. He should be a part of the Nats bullpen by September.
Mitchell Parker (#15)
Season Stats: 11 GS, 1.96 ERA, 46 IP, 54 K, 1.33 WHIP
Parker was the Nats 5th round pick in the 2020 draft. That draft also produced Cavalli and Henry, so there’s a chance that the 2020 draft turns out to be one of the Nats most productive drafts in recent memory. Parker has absolutely dominated at Wilmington so far this year. The only reason he’s not in Harrisburg yet is because of his issue with walks. He’s walked 36 batters in 46 innings. He throws a plus fastball and plus curveball. If he can develop his changeup or splitter into another average pitch, he could he well on his way to giving the Nats another rotation option in the near future. Otherwise, at worst, Parker should give the Nats another very good left-handed arm out of the bullpen.
Mason Denaburg (#29)
Season Stats: 5 GS, 5.27 ERA, 13 ⅔ IP, 17 K, 1.83 WHIP
Most people might not believe this, but Mason Denaburg is still only 22 years old. He’s only made 12 minor league starts in 4 years due to shoulder issues and eventually Tommy John surgery in 2021. His numbers so far this year might not be all that impressive, but if you take out his first start of the year he has a 3.09 ERA, 16 K and a 1.46 WHIP. His stuff seems like it’s back. Aside from Cole Henry and Cade Cavalli, Denaburg might be the Nats pitching prospect that I’m most excited about. Like many of the Nats minor league starters, he needs to work on his control. That’s one of the hardest things to regain following Tommy John surgery though, so there is reason to believe he’ll be ok. Denaburg was a top draft prospect back in 2018 and if he can finally stay healthy, then the Nats might end up being rewarded for waiting. With his mid-90s fastball and above-average curveball, he has two plus pitches to work with already. Putting the finishing touches on his changeup could give him three plus pitches and give him a chance to stick as a starter and work his way towards eventually making his debut in the Nats rotation.
Jake Irvin (#30)
Season Stats: 12 GS, 2.62 ERA, 44 ⅔ IP, 44 K, 1.03 WHIP
Another pitcher in the Nats system who’s career so far has been derailed by injuries. Irvin was the Nats 4th round selection in 2018. After a solid showing in 2019, Irvin developed elbow issues following instructs during the shortened 2020 season and ended up having Tommy John surgery which forced him to miss the entire 2021 season. With all that lost time, Irvin is already 25 years old. If the Nats want to see him move quicker through the system, they could move him to the bullpen. Either way, he has a low to mid-90s fastball, coupled with a plus curveball and a change up that Irvin has been working to improve and that has already proven effective against lefties. That 3-pitch mix should allow him to progress either as a starter or a reliever. So far this season, he hasn’t given the Nats much reason to move him to the bullpen.