The nice thing about rebuilding is you get to watch a bunch of young guys grow, develop, and play each day as they potentially could become the core of a World Series contending club. The bad thing about that is sometimes it’s hard to gauge players when you have a coaching staff that is not exactly up to par. Nevertheless, as we are at the 100 game mark tonight, let’s check in on how each of these guys are doing.
One of the headlines in the massive Juan Soto deal, Gore did not pitch last year for the Nationals due to injury, meaning this year has been our first glance at the former top pitching prospect. The talented southpaw is 6-7 on the year with a 4.37 ERA, a 1.436 WHIP, and 122 strikeouts in 101 innings pitched. On display has been his swing and miss stuff, showcased by his 10.9 K/9 (9th in baseball). The North Carolina native has a 21.7 whiff% on his fastball, a 40.5 whiff% on his curveball, a 39.9 whiff% on his slider and a 40 whiff% on his changeup.
His main issue this season (and truly his issue since he was drafted) is his command. Gore’s fastball has missed over the heart of the plate often and has been hit hard. This season he’s given up an 11.2 barrel% (the MLB average is 6.8%). He has also given up a hard hit% of 45.7 (MLB average is 36.1). Gore has a 3.9 BB/9 which is the biggest concern. The swing and miss stuff is there but if he cannot get the walks down then his ceiling as a pitcher will be hampered.
Overall, Gore has shown flashes that he can be a top of the rotation arm but like most young players, he still has some stuff to work on to get to that level. All in all, there is a good deal to be excited about with him. I wanted to include his fastball placement, the dark circles in heart of the plate are where he throws it consistently.
2023 All-Star Josiah Gray is 7-8 with a 3.45 ERA, a 1.442 WHIP, and 98 strikeouts in 112.1 innings pitched. He is 11th in the National league in ERA which is better than the likes of Corbin Burnes, Spencer Strider, Max Scherzer and Zach Wheeler. The young right-hander gave up a league leading 38 home runs last season and so far this year has given up just 15 home runs, which is a nice improvement.
The analytics however, are not too keen on Josiah and much of that is due to the amount of contact he has given up this season. His H/9 has jumped from 8.2 last season to 8.9 this year, while his BB/9 is up slightly to 4.1 and his K/9 is down over a full strikeout to a 7.9 K/9. While he is giving up much more contact this year, he isn’t getting hit very hard. Gray’s hard hit% is 34.9, which is below league average. His walk rate is concerning as well, as it’s 2% higher than league average. The amount of contact given up explains why his expected stats are ugly and why some regression is likely on the horizon.
Gray has shown improvements but his biggest issue is that he struggles in putting guys away. He’s thrown 8 different pitches this year to help combat his fastball issues. While some of those pitches have been great (sweeper), some of them have not (sinker). Gray has made good strides forward but the overall contact given up raises cause for concern. Until he improves the fastball and pitches to less contact, Gray is a solid three at best in a rotation of the future.
Alongside Gore, CJ Abrams was the other big headliner in the Juan Soto deal. So far this season the young shortstop is slashing .256/.301/.428 with 10 HR, 40 RBI, 19 stolen bases, and 1.1 fWAR. It has been quite the adventure this season for Abrams. He started off with 3 errors on opening day and was struggling both offensively and defensively. But even during those struggling times, he would still show flashes of great potential.
Abrams currently has a 0 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) despite at one point earlier in the season having a -5 DRS and was statistically the worst defender in baseball. The improvement at a critical defensive position in such a short amount of time is staggering and a testament to his abilities and work ethic. He does, however, have a -9 OAA (Outs Above Average). OAA is another advanced defensive metric formulated on position range which will take time for him to improve.
Recently, the Georgia native recently moved to the leadoff spot and everything has seemingly clicked at the plate for him. Abrams is the reigning National League Player of the Week and is on an absolute HEATER in the month of July. It’s kind of amazing that when you play someone to their strengths, let them bat leadoff and steal bases that they all of a sudden play better (wow what a concept). Abrams is still growing and he doesn’t hit the ball very hard or barrel up a lot of pitches. And yes, he has some issues with off-speed pitches from left-handed pitchers. But the most important thing this season is that Abrams has shown flashes of who he can be and what he can bring as a leadoff hitter. That in itself is a massive win for this franchise’s future.
I was so high on Luis Garcia coming into this season and some things have just not played out. The young second baseman is slashing .269/.303/.370 with 5 HR, 41 RBI, and a 0.0 fWAR. The batted ball profile coming into this season for Garcia showed a lot of hope. He made great contact and hit the ball hard, showing signs of progression. Unfortunately, he’s being coached by Darnell Coles. For two straight months Garcia has led the league in GB%, though he did lower that to 53.2 (still astonishingly high). That hampers his ceiling as a player.
Currently, Garcia is a BABIP (Batting Average of Balls In Play) merchant who will be lucky to have an OPS over .700 while most of his power has completely disappeared in large part thanks to that inflated GB%. On the positive side, he is walking at a high clip from last season. On the defensive side, he’s taken a step back. His DRS has slipped from 3 last year to -1 this year and his OAA from 1 to -2. I am a big fan of Luis Garcia’s potential, but unfortunately right now his ceiling just screams role player until he can fix his ground ball tendencies.
Oh, sweet Keibert Ruiz. This season the backstop is slashing .244/.300/.397 with 11 HR, 37 RBIs, and has a -0.7 fWAR. Ruiz was coming off a season where he ranked 6th in WAR, 4th in defensive WAR, 4th in BA, 7th in OBP, 7th in SLG, 8th in Framing and 3rd in caught stealing. He got a nice 8-year extension as a reward for that production and was poised for a big year. Unfortunately, that has not been the case.
Ruiz has regressed across the board. He’s dead last in catcher framing runs, he’s third to last in blocks above average, fourth to last in catcher blocking runs, last in catcher caught stealing above average and last in catcher stealing runs. He also has a 6% caught stealing rate (this is not entirely his fault, the pitching staff just does not hold runners). One of Ruiz’s biggest strengths last year was his defense, but now? He’s become a liability. A contributing factor to this defensive regression is that the Nationals are having him block balls in a different stance than previous seasons. Offensively, his numbers are down in every significant category. Ruiz did have a great week in Chicago recently which was reassuring, but overall this season has been a disappointment.
It should be noted that there is a noticeable gap between his actual and expected stats so progression is coming for him, but how much? A good portion of the gap can be explained by his lack of speed and inability to stretch a single into a double. He, just like so many others on this roster, have bad approaches at the plate (he chases outside the zone 33% of the time, league average is 28%). Ruiz is a frustrating case because he had the tools in the minors and just isn’t putting it together here. And one large question remains about Keibert, is it the coaching? Or is it him? This franchise needs to hope that it’s the former.