With the July 3 midseason update of my top 25 Nats prospects, I wanted to provide the reasoning behind the rankings of each player. These rankings will be a very narrow window of time as this list will be updated anytime a top Draft pick officially signs, as well as any time a trade return who warrants inclusion is added at the Trade Deadline.
1. OF James Wood
Wood is a premier prospect with a sky-high ceiling. He is handling aggressive assignments with flying colors. His K rate is high if you want to nitpick, but that is often due to looking strikeouts in which he was correct not to swing and it is fixable. He knows what he's doing in the box. His defense is better than you'd expect in center from a guy of his stature. You dream about athletes like this. This is clear cut and unanimous. He's incredible.
2. 3B Brady House
Healthy again after missing the second half of 2022, House has picked up where he left off and is once again one of the best prospects in baseball, evidenced by his selection alongside Wood to the 2023 All-Star Futures Game. House is a power hitter with some swing-and-miss, but nothing abnormal that can't be fixed with experience. He should be a plus defender at third when all is said and done. His home runs are all opposite-field shots and it would be nice to see him show more pull-side power if you want to split hairs. He is off to a flying start at High-A Wilmington, a place that is death on power hitters.
3. RHP Cade Cavalli
Cavalli is moving up the ranks while recovering from Tommy John surgery due to poor showings of others, whom we will get to shortly.
4. RHP Jackson Rutledge
This is where my rankings will start to differ from consensus. Rutledge cruised against Double-A lineups despite fighting command throughout the entire season. His metrics aren't as good as his primary stats, but his stuff has ticked up this year and more importantly, he continues to take the ball every week and pitch deep into games. Rutledge has legit swing-and-miss stuff with a fastball that can touch triple-digits and a nasty breaking ball. Tall guys like this can take several years to get everything aligned, but if it clicks, he could become a force near the top of a good rotation. He also could never find his command and end up in the bullpen. There is a wide range of outcomes with Rutledge, but his upside lands him here. This ranking is very much due more to his top-end potential than current performance.
5. LHP Jake Bennett
Bennett, last year's second-round pick, has been the best pitcher in the Nats's system this year by a very wide margin. A polished lefty out of Oklahoma, the Nats could probably be more aggressive pushing him up the chain, but you can't argue with the results. His changeup has stymied right-handed hitters, as advertised, and in general he is overpowering opposing hitters in a way that suggests he could be more than a back-rotation pitchability guy. He has one of the best FIPs in the minors and his metrics support the eye test. Barring injury, Bennett should play a role in the Nats' rotation sometime in 2024. He jumps into the top five more based on higher confidence that he will contribute in the big leagues than the next two guys on the list.
6. OF Elijah Green
This brings me no joy to admit temporary defeat on my preseason No. 1 Nats prospect, but sometimes reality interjects. Strikeouts were a known issue when the Nats selected Green with the fifth pick in the 2022 Draft, but it has continued at an alarming rate this season. There is no history of success for a player striking out more than 40% of the time in Low A. However, Green is 19 and hardly a lost cause. The tools are rare, and his speed and defense have shown up in games. His exit velocity when he does make contact is elite, but unfortunately in the form of ground balls and few extra-base hits. Green does have a good feel for the strike zone, evidenced by an excellent walk rate, but that should lead to more contact and damage. After showing some promise early in June with cutting down on the Ks, it never was accompanied by improved production with the bat, and he quickly reverted to old habits. He has a long way to go. Spots 4-7 were the hardest on this list, but Green's immense upside keeps him high on the list … for now.
7. OF Robert Hassell III
One of the top prospects in baseball and the headliner of the Juan Soto trade with the Padres, Hassell has endured a nightmarish tenure in the Nationals' organization, to put it mildly. Multiple injuries and poor production have seen his national stock tumble, and he also drops significantly in my rankings. A hamate injury explains a lack of power, but power was a question when he was a top prospect in the Padres' system, as well, so it's not quite that simple. The hamate doesn't explain the ballooning K rate in Double-A for a guy whose profile is contact-oriented. His ground-ball rate is also way too high. Injuries do not explain everything. A good player who is physically hindered and needs to recover isn't hard to spot. Something more is seemingly going on here. With Lane Thomas' ascension, James Wood getting closer to the majors and the potential for Dylan Crews to join the fold very soon, Hassell is going to have to get right physically and mentally to remain a prominent figure in the team's future. The good news is he still has impressive hitting tools and is young for a Double-A player, so time is on his side.
8. RHP Jarlin Susana
Susana was the wild card addition to the Juan Soto mega trade with the Padres. An imposing teenager with a fastball that touches 103, Susana has predictably struggled with command in Low A at times. However, Susana has shown considerable recent improvement on that front. Susana just turned 19 in March and is very young for this level, so he is well ahead of the game. His strikeout numbers are lower than you'd expect for a guy with his arm, but that has more to do with not pitching ahead in the count very often. Raw arms like this often get moved to the bullpen early, but Susana has shown enough improvement to put that thought on the backburner for now.
9. OF Daylen Lile
The Nats' second-round pick in 2021, Lile missed all of 2022 with Tommy John surgery. However, he is making up for lost time this year, emerging as one of the best hitters in the Nats' system. He has a somewhat similar profile to Robert Hassell III as a contact-oriented, sweet-swinging lefty with questionable future power. Hassell has a better defensive profile, but Lile has improved in left field and is driving the ball better. He should advance to High A before the season is over. The power will determine whether he's a potential big-league starter or more a fourth outfielder profile.
10. RHP Cole Henry
Henry is maybe the most difficult player to analyze on this list. A second-round pick in 2020, Henry has first-round stuff but a laundry list of injuries, most recently the unpredictable thoracic outlet syndrome. However, Henry returned to game action less than a year removed from TOC surgery and has displayed the power stuff that made him one of the best prospects in the system. His production has been inconsistent, but the stuff is still there. Now he must hold up physically to get a chance to display it in the majors. It's hard to pencil him into a specific role, but when on the mound, his stuff is good enough to get anyone out.
11. 3B Trey Lipscomb
Last year's third-round pick, Lipscomb has already advanced to Double-A. That's a good sign for a player who didn't play much on some loaded Tennessee teams until his final year. He still is a little raw and needs experience, but there is a nice, short swing that generates easy power that still hasn't been fully tapped into. He's inconsistent defensively but should get better there with more experience. If he continues to hit and improve, he could be a candidate to move across the diamond to first base if Brady House pans out.
12. 1B TJ White
White's numbers look rough on the surface. But you must consider how young he is for the level and the fact that he is learning a new position, moving from the outfield to first base. What is encouraging about White is his good feel for the strike zone and one of the best fly-ball rates in the system. Unfortunately, Wilmington is the worst place to be a fly-ball hitter, so his work is not often being rewarded. When he does connect, it's a thing of beauty and a reminder of the raw talent within.
13. OF Jeremy De La Rosa
De La Rosa is a good athlete who is usually slow to adapt to a new level. That has also been the case at High-A Wilmington. His production has been decent at an extremely pitcher-friendly affiliate, but not enough to overcome an extremely high K rate. De La Rosa is still largely an exciting athlete more than a good baseball player.
14. OF Cristhian Vaquero
The most expensive international signing in franchise history at $4.9 million, Vaquero has yet to make an impact in the Dominican Summer League or the Florida Complex League. While still only 18, he hasn't been abnormally young for the levels at which he has played, so it is concerning to see such pedestrian output for a much-hyped player. Players develop on different timelines, but for comparison, Elijah Green was much better in the post-Draft version of the FCL, which is a lot tougher, at a younger age last summer. Vaquero makes contact and draws walks at a good rate for his age but has done very little damage with the bat and first-hand accounts from national evaluators haven't been especially promising.
15. INF/OF Jake Alu
He's an older prospect at 26 years old, but Alu just continues to hit. The guy can hit and play multiple positions, which could earn him plenty of playing time in D.C. after July, assuming Jeimer Candelario is traded at the deadline. He's done everything he can do in the minors and just must wait his turn.
16. RHP Zach Brzykcy
Like Cade Cavalli, Brzykcy moves up the pecking order while recovering from Tommy John surgery due to the performance of others, which isn't a ringing endorsement for the state of the farm system.
17. C Drew Millas
Millas, part of the return from the A's for Yan Gomes and Josh Harrison two years ago, has taken a major step forward this season. He destroyed Double-A pitching to earn a promotion to Triple-A Rochester, where he hasn't played at that level, but has played well. Millas' calling card has always been his defense behind the plate and his athleticism for the position. He has a good profile for a backup catcher.
18. C Israel Pineda
Pineda, who earned a cup of coffee in Washington late last season, was clearly ahead of Drew Millas in the race to supplant Riley Adams as the backup catcher behind Keibert Ruiz before the season, but injury has kept him off the field in 2023. From a tools standpoint, he is an interesting contrast to the other catchers in the system with a rocket arm to shut down the running game and a power-over-hit profile.
19. OF Jacob Young
Young has excellent speed but more than that, he is an elite baserunner who swipes a lot of bases and almost never is thrown out. The only question mark has been if he would hit enough, and his bat has broken out in 2023. An undersized player with no power, Young must hit his way on base to put his speed to use. He also makes all the plays in the outfield, but played second base in college and should play multiple positions to increase his value as a utility player moving forward.
20. RHP Andry Lara
Lara was once a top-five prospect in the system, but he continues to go backward. Lara simply has not shown much this season and he isn't the best athlete. He is still young and pitchers can be hard to forecast. But Lara was considered an advanced pitcher for his age who was tested with aggressive assignments early but is well behind many other more prominent pitching prospects in the pecking order now. He has plenty of time to figure it out and recent outings have been more promising.
21. LHP Jose Ferrer
Ferrer can throw in the upper 90s with a solid slider and inconsistent changeup that could be better. But his command has gone south, and he doesn't miss as many bats as he should while walking too many. He's probably more a second lefty out of the bullpen type as opposed to a high-leverage reliever. But Ferrer just made his Major League debut and probably showed enough juice in his left arm to warrant a longer stay.
22. OF Blake Rutherford
This one may catch your eye. If you recognize that name it's because Rutherford is a former ballyhooed first-round pick of the Yankees who was a headliner in their 2017 Trade Deadline deal with the White Sox that sent Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the Bronx. Rutherford was an under-the-radar Minor League signing this winter who is absolutely raking and resembling the top prospect he once was. He destroyed Double-A pitching and is doing the same at Triple-A. And here's the thing: he's younger than Jake Alu and Jake Irvin. So, while he is an older prospect at 26, Rutherford's book is not written. Maybe the Nats struck gold here. He seemingly has a good chance to make his MLB debut soon, especially if Corey Dickerson is moved in July.
23. LHP Mitchell Parker
Parker had a really rough introduction to Double-A ball to start the year but turned his season around in June. His profile is mostly the same as it ever has been. Parker has missed bats at every level despite middling velocity and no true out pitch, but struggles mightily to throw strikes. His future is tough to forecast given his strike-throwing issues. And without a true offspeed, putaway pitch, a late-inning relief role may not be in the cards. It may be more a long-relief role down the line, but when Parker is locked in, he can be as overpowering as almost any pitcher in the system.
24. SS Armando Cruz
This might feel low for a 19-year-old who got $4 million two years ago, but I don't see a lot of projection here. Cruz was a top international prospect due to his advanced glove, but the bat was always a question. And he has not answered that question satisfactorily. Defensively, he does display incredible traits, but is still sloppy at times with a high error count. Offensively, there's not much to get excited about other than speed. He's quite diminutive with little physicality in the box. You need to hope for a growth spurt that doesn't diminish his defensive skillset at a premium position. A skilled defensive shortstop will keep getting chances, however.
25. OF Jared McKenzie
McKenzie began the 2022 college season with first-round buzz but really went downhill and fell to the Nats in the fifth round. He has been good if unspectacular at a tough affiliate for hitters in Wilmington. His K rate is high, but he walks a decent amount and makes pretty strong contact. There's a potential backup big-league outfielder here.
Graduated: RHP Jake Irvin
Moving In: OF Blake Rutherford, LHP Mitchell Parker, OF Jared McKenzie
Falling Out: OF Brenner Cox, 1B Roismar Quintana, INF Sammy Infante
Just Missed: LHP Dustin Saenz, 2B Darren Baker, OF Brenner Cox