The Nationals are no stranger to top outfield prospects. Arguably the most hyped prospect in MLB history, Bryce Harper, came up through the Nationals organization, quickly becoming the cornerstone for a team beginning to come into its own. Years later, Juan Soto slugged his way near the top of the Nationals prospect rankings before breaking onto the scene as the Nats’ next young star outfielder. Currently, the league’s biggest and best collection of prospective outfield talent resides in the Nationals’ minor league system. To preview the 2023 season, we look at the future of the Nats outfield with top prospects fighting for their spots on the big league team in coming years.
James Wood (Nats #1, MLB #17)
It didn’t take long for James Wood to shoot up the prospect rankings and become the Nationals’ #1 prospect after being acquired as part of the infamous Juan Soto trade. Wood is easy to spot on the field, towering over his teammates at 6’7″. His 240-pound frame is likely to increase as he matures and puts on more muscle, only furthering his eye-popping power potential. Wood’s carrying tool as a prospect is his bat. Though his power is more highly rated, Wood’s ability to make contact has been his most impressive trait so far in his career, hitting .313 throughout the 2022 season. With such large stature and an ability to get the barrel to the ball, Wood should have effortless power from the left side of the batter’s box for years to come. Defensively, Wood’s impressive athleticism and speed have him in center field. His massive size does throw some doubt on whether he can stick there as 6’7’’ ballplayers typically struggle to move with the grace required to play center. Wood’s strong arm would be put to good use in right field if his athleticism declines, much like Aaron Judge. At just 20 years old, we shouldn’t expect to see James Wood in the big leagues for a couple of years.
Robert Hassell III (Nats #2, MLB #35)
Like James Wood, Hassell III was acquired by the Nationals in the Juan Soto trade. His hitter profile is much the opposite of Wood, however, as his major tool is his contact ability. Despite a decrease in production after the midsummer trade in part due to injury, Hassell boasted an impressive .273 batting average throughout the various levels of minor leagues. Hassell’s specialty is driving the ball to the opposite field, enabling him to stay on pitches and make solid contact with pitches that would prove hard to hit for many. Hassell’s power is still developing, but being just 21 years old, his contact ability can keep him afloat until his power catches up. Defensively, Hassell possesses above-average speed and a strong arm, traits that let him thrive in center field. At a much more modest 6’2’’, Hassell has a more typical body for center field compared to the giant James Wood. The importance of center field allows suitable players’ defensive value to make up for a lack of offensive power, something that could allow Hassell to maintain his status as an impact player in the case that his power doesn’t develop. However, if forced to move to a corner outfield spot, Hassell’s power would need to show more in accompaniment with his contact-first approach. While we won’t see Hassell in the major leagues in 2023, he should be knocking on the door not long after, eyeing a debut in 2024.
Elijah Green (Nats #3, MLB #46)
Elijah Green has perhaps the highest potential of all Nationals prospects. Drafted 5th overall this past summer, Green has potentially generational power, blinding speed, and the defensive ability to stay a premiere center fielder for the long term. His big question mark regards his ability to make consistent contact. If able to cut down on his swing-and-miss problem, Green has the ability to become a star 5-tool player possessing above-average contact, power, speed, fielding ability, and a strong throwing arm in center field. In his short stint in rookie ball to close out the 2022 season, Green impressed with his ability to hit the ball consistently hard, hitting over .300, but striking out in nearly half of his plate appearances. Assuming his hit tool develops enough to give his power an outlet, Elijah Green will make the major leagues as a center fielder. His athletic profile makes him the easy choice to command the top outfield spot in DC year after year. Just 19 years old, we won’t see Green in DC for some time. Green’s path through the minors will be one to watch, but we can eye a debut sometime in 2025-2026.
RICK JAMES SAID IT BEST!!! @elijahgreen1204 IS A SUPER FREAK!!! AT 19yrs OLD THE POWER IS OFF THE CHARTS!!! pic.twitter.com/mbpYeHnCRd
— eric green (@ericgreen86) December 13, 2022
Cristhian Vaquero (Nats #7)
The Nationals’ youngest outfield prospect won’t turn 19 until mid-September, nearly at the end of what will be his first season playing in the USA. The Nationals signed Vaquero for nearly 5 million dollars during the 2022 international signing period. Vaquero, nicknamed “the phenom”, was at the top of the signing class, boasting speed, size, and power at a young age. With plenty of time to add muscle, fill out, and refine his skill set, Vaquero looks to prove his switch-hitting ability before rising up the minor league ranks in America. With impressive speed and a strong arm, Vaquero has played exclusively center field in the Dominican Summer League and projects to do the same in coming years. Even further from the majors than fellow teenager Elijah Green, Vaquero’s hitting ability will determine his rise to the big leagues. Like Green, Vaquero’s athleticism shows promise for a long defensive future in center field. Don’t expect to see Cristhian Vaquero anytime soon, but keep his name in the back of your mind for a possible 2027 call-up.
Jeremy De La Rosa (Nats #8)
Jeremy De La Rosa, or JDLR, was tearing the cover off the ball in early 2022 with high-A Fredricksburg. A hamate bone injury affected his play at higher levels, slashing his numbers to a fraction of what they could be. When healthy, JDLR has plus raw power, and having cut down on strikeouts, has shown the ability to transfer that power to game circumstances. Speed is also a large part of JDLR’s game, with the lefty swiping an impressive 39 bases across low-A and high-A in 2022. This speed translates to defense, as he shows off his ability to run down balls in center field. However, with the herd of talent already in center field with higher defensive capabilities, it seems inevitable that JDLR is pushed to a corner outfield spot. With a less impressive throwing arm than say, James Wood, it would be safe to assume De La Rosa finds himself in left field with the big league team. Now 21 years old, Jeremy De La Rosa should be getting his first taste of AA in 2023. After being added to the Nationals’ 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, he should be progressing sooner rather than later and should be seen as a depth piece for the major league team no later than 2024.
With prospective talent in abundance, the Nationals have options to fill up the 3 outfield spots for years to come. Elijah Green, Robert Hassell III, and Cristhian Vaquero, all in different developmental stages, line up for the center field spot. James Wood’s size and power see him as a logical fit in right, while Jeremy De La Rosa projects to be a plus defender and hitter in left. Speed highlights the future of the Nationals’ outfield, with plus power and contact spread out between these top 5 prospects. Of course, it would be unreasonable to assume each player pans out to their full potential. The Nationals already know the struggle of a top outfield prospect failing to reach their hype via Victor Robles. Yet, with the plethora of outfielders fighting for their chance at stardom, it’s safe to say that the Nationals have plenty to look forward to.
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