Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Baseball America’s Nats top 30


Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by Baseball America. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Baseball America announced Top 30 lists for all teams on 2/3/21, which meant we get the first major team-specific review of the prospects.

The lack of a minor league season in 2020 complicates this analysis, as does the late arriving IFA class (delayed 6 months from its typical July 2 date). But we do have some shuffling of prospects from prior lists. This post will call out some of the more interesting prospects on BA’s list, if they’re higher or lower than other shops.

Direct link to the Nats top 30 is here. The top 30 table is here:

2021 BA RankLast NameFirst Name
6De La RosaJeremy

Notable players:

  • Like pretty much every other prospect ranking shop, the top three includes Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry. Cavalli comes in ahead of Rutledge.
  • After a down year, Yasel Antuna is now all the way up to #4. As we’ve heard repeatedly, he did well in the XST 60-man last year and is rounding into the prospect shape they thought they were getting when they spent $3.9M on him in 2016. For all the talk we have about whether Kieboom is ready … maybe we’re looking at the wrong 3B prospect right now. Could Antuna win the 3B job this spring??
  • BA continues to be high shop on De La Rosa, ranking him #6.
  • The Pittsburgh trade cost the team two of its former BA top 10 players in Crowe and Yean, which moves up two 2019 draftees Cronin and Mendoza into the top 10. Both were solid college players who have done well so far in the minors. Cronin seems like he could zoom up the minors in 2021.
  • They’re way high on Infante, with him at #12 when most shops have him buried in the mid 20s. I definitely feel like there’s some pretty distinct opinions on Infante in the Natmosphere; some people really hated the pick. He was above slot, buying him out of a UMiami commitment and is listed as having plus arm, plus hands and is “advanced” for a prep draft pick.
  • Romero down to #13. For understandable reasons; his velocity was not impressive in 2020 in his very short season. I’d like to see him in AAA, as a starter, pitching every 5th day for half a season to see just what he’s capable of.
  • The three catchers on this list: Barrera at #14, Pineda at #15, Reetz at #24; does anyone actually think any of these guys ever contribute at the MLB level? Reetz was a MLFA re-signing and comes in at #24 in the system?
  • Daniel Marte pops up kind of out of the blue at #16. Seems like a speculative ranking.
  • Ben Braymer at #17 continues to get half-hearted prospect support, despite his excellent minor league career thus far. A reminder; he has a career 3.64 minor league ERA despite a 7+ ERA in 13 Fresno starts in 2019. He continues to be one of the best middle-round picks we’ve ever had.
  • Steven Fuentes creeping up to #19. Still can’t believe he’s not higher; he dominated AA in 2019 as a 22yr old.
  • BA is much lower on Joan Adon than other shops, bringing him at #23 when most others have him in the 14-17 range.
  • Same with Reid Schaller; having him #29 while other shops have him as high as #16.
  • Why is Sterling Sharp even considered a prospect at this point (he’s ranked #25).
  • Two debutants on BA’s list that i’ve never seen mentioned elsewhere before: Andry Arias comes in at #27 and Bryan Sanchez at #30

FYI: The 2021 IFA picks (specifically Armando Cruz) were not included on this list.

Overall farm system thoughts: top heavy: 3 big arms at the top who project as solid #2-#3 starters. Then three high-risk/high-ceiling IFAs. Then a combination of big-time Div1 studs and failed first rounders. There’s room for improvement.

32 Responses to 'Baseball America’s Nats top 30'

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  1. My prediction for first one on this list to break through to the show is Matt Cronin. Lefthanded reliever and met no resistance in 2019.

    That said, we haven’t seen anyone here play in 18 months.

    Mark L

    5 Feb 21 at 12:35 pm

  2. Matt Cronin’s 2019 line: 17 games. 22IP. 41 Ks, 11 walks, 11 hits, 2 earned runs (one of which was on a solo homer).

    Yeah that’s pretty good.

    can he turn that line from Low-A two years ago into success against MLB hitters? A tough leap; i’d guess he’d start in AA in 2021 with an eye on a quick promotion to AAA.

    Todd Boss

    5 Feb 21 at 12:52 pm

  3. Todd, you brought up a good point. Cronin might be ready for Rochester this year; we just don’t know.

    With spring training for the major league team and for Rochester reporting right around the corner we’ll have some idea who the Nats think are AAA ready.

    Can’t wait!

    Mark L

    5 Feb 21 at 2:00 pm

  4. Trevor Bauer probably takes the Dodgers out of the Justin Turner derby. That would be a nice way for Mike Rizzo to cap the offseason.


    5 Feb 21 at 3:16 pm

  5. Takes the Dodgers out of a few folks. The Mets are a joke and the whole charade, of running up the price on the Dodgers, is OK by me. Especially if treasure falls to the Nats.


    5 Feb 21 at 4:22 pm

  6. Hey, future Hall of Famer Max Schrock has been DFA’d by the Cubs! There’s the solution to all of our remaining problems!

    The Bauer deal is nuts, but at least it’s short-term, just in case he goes, you know, nuts. It also puts Big Blue way over the tax line, and likely takes them out of the market for Justin Turner. So does that put the Nats in the market for Mr. Turner?


    5 Feb 21 at 7:32 pm

  7. Quick quiz (don’t peak): How many players out of the top 13 on the BA list above played a full season of professional baseball in 2019?

    Answer: Tim Cate. He made a very strong move of two-plus levels (pitched in AA playoffs I think).

    How many players is BA totally guessing about? I’m tempted to say 12, but they downgraded Romero based on actual MLB action (albeit after he skipped THREE levels), and Rutledge was pretty dang dominant in his half season in 2019, as was Cronin. Meanwhile, Mendoza was fairly mediocre, and de la Rosa and Cluff weren’t good. I mean, I don’t think Cluff is even in the same class with, um, the great Max Schrock.

    Antuna hit .220 in low A the last time he played, three years ago. He hit a few homers in the 2020 instrux, most likely against guys who hadn’t played all summer, while he had been hitting against Rutledge. It’s better than not hitting a few homers, but, um, he’s going to do well just to hold his own at AA.


    5 Feb 21 at 7:50 pm

  8. The last time Luke did his crowd-sourced prospect lists, in late 2019, I had Fuentes #2 or #3 on my list, based on exactly what Todd said — an excellent showing in AA at age 22. Does he have the potential ceiling of a Cavalli or a Rutledge? No. But his floor is higher. I think his floor is probably Suero, who is pretty decent.


    5 Feb 21 at 8:08 pm

  9. Justin Turner took significant dips in SLG and ISO in 2020, although his hard-hit rate stayed high. He benefited from a high (.347 BABIP). All in all, he strikes out much less, and had a better 2020 season than, Suarez or Bryant (or Arenado).

    What’s his price point? Probably $12-15M, which would keep the Nats under the tax line (barely). Does he still want to play again if he can’t be in his native SoCal? Does he think the Nats are close enough to contending to be worth is his time? He certainly would be a forceful RH bat to put in the middle of that lineup, plus give Kieboom another year to figure out things at Rochester.


    5 Feb 21 at 8:18 pm

  10. Mike Rizzo just looked smarter as the Braves signed Ozuna to 4 years $65 million.
    The comps of him and Schwarber are even. They have the same career OPS and both play DH-quality defense. Plus, Schwarber is 2 years younger and the Nats are not on the hook for 4 years.

    Mark L

    6 Feb 21 at 8:03 am

  11. Mark — Considering Ozuna’s roller-coaster career, I think the $16.3 AAV is probably what he’s “worth” (although Bauer managed to get paid spectacularly based on his one good season). Yes, there’s some risk for the Braves with the four-year contract, but they’re also nowhere near the tax line, and Freeman is the only one of their stars who they’ll have to pay anytime soon. They’re likely to have rent a couple of new starting pitchers again next season, though. (And they radically overpaid for Smyly this year.)


    7 Feb 21 at 11:02 am

  12. The Braves are going for it with the best bat they could sign, and they did it. The outlay of 65m over four years easily fits their budget. It’s a great-run organization with Anthopolous and it was well set up with the Acura and Albies contracts. The Braves will be tough competition and for someone like Rizzo, the move may have been the best thing for the Nats to upgrade in turn. I just hope the Nats move in turn is according to design and not reactionary like the pivot from McCutcheon/Sale.

    I still remember the trading deadline of 19 when the Braces went out and got Martin, Greene, and Melancon just like that. We got Elias, Strickland, and Hudson. It looked like we went shopping at Goodwill. Maybe we did. But we won, by goodness we won it all.

    So it will be fascinating to see the play coming here. Turner would not fit this year’s budget unless structured on a two year deal. Even Suarez is pushing it with the makeup of the current roster. Is the ceiling a ceiling with players like Max who are potential compensation pick free agents, on the dock next fall? Or can they restructure contracts to fit more payroll?


    7 Feb 21 at 2:28 pm

  13. It’s always the years, not the annual amount that kills a team. Rizzo signing Schwarber for 1 year is 10X smarter than the Braves signing Ozuna for 4 years.

    BTW, the Nats still need an infielder.

    Mark L

    8 Feb 21 at 9:53 am

  14. Mark, keep the faith. Rizzo has had plenty of time to get creative. When other starters get signed, the Nats surplus will be more appealing.

    The Nate Karns deal happened 2/13. This is a year that things necessarily shifted, and one move affects another. Witness Doolittle signing with Reds when Nats signed Hand. I believe Nats wanted JTR and pivoted to Hand when they could not get him at their price. That opened the door for Avila.

    Look at the 3B situation the same way and watch the dominos fall.


    8 Feb 21 at 10:03 am

  15. I think the Nats are still around $17M under the tax line, and Turner isn’t getting $17M, so he could fit. But the more flexible way to do it would be 2/$20M with a $5M buyout for the second year, so he’s guaranteed $15M.

    Braves were rumored to be on Turner’s short list about 10 days ago, but so were the Dodgers, so I guess he was waiting to see what Blue would do first. And after bringing back Ozuna, the Braves now might not want to put out another eight-digit contract for a RH bat, although they’ve still got the budget for it.

    We’ll see. There are still a heck of a lot of good players unsigned. Turner is the only one who really moves the needle at the Nats’ greatest area of need, though. But I could see Boras lobbying Rizzo to sign Rosenthal, or even Paxton.

    One thought I haven’t seen floated is whether the Dodgers will try to dump some salary. Corey Seager (Boras client) is owed $13.75M and is in the last year of his contract. As it happens, that number would fit perfectly with what the Nats have left, and I imagine ol’ Corey could play a pretty decent 3B. It would take at least three prospects to get him, but it’s a salary dump, and only for one year, so Cavalli and Rutledge likely wouldn’t have to be on the table.


    8 Feb 21 at 1:12 pm

  16. I’d love Seager.

    Todd Boss

    8 Feb 21 at 2:26 pm

  17. Well, it’s official: seven-inning doubleheaders and the unearned runner on second base to start extra innings are here to stay, at least for 2021.

    Baseball for people who just aren’t crazy about baseball.


    8 Feb 21 at 10:02 pm

  18. I gotta say, i’m ok with the 7inning DH rule since … that’s the way I always played them 🙂 I suspect highly though that as soon as there’s no fan restrictions, they go back to split day/night 9-inning double headers because it means double the gate.

    The runner on 2nd is kind of abomination. i agree. but it isn’t necessarily the hill upon which I want to die arguing when it comes to rule changes. I understand why both sides want it; it protects players and eliminates those ridiculous grinding 13-14 inning games.

    Todd Boss

    9 Feb 21 at 11:08 am

  19. At least I’ll be able to watch another year without a DH in the National League.

    By opening day, there should be at least a 50-60% vaccination penetration among us. That will make a big difference in terms of allowing fans.

    The runner on 2nd is okay in the minors, ridiculous for the big guys.

    Mark L

    9 Feb 21 at 12:16 pm

  20. The biggest negative for the Nats is no expanded playoffs (at least not yet; that happened right before the season last year). One wild card is likely to go to Dodgers/Padres runner up, and everyone in the NL East is “trying.” All but PIT in the Central are semi-trying, although the Cubs and Reds have pushed out some key pieces in salary dumps. Anyway, if we concede on wild card to the NL West, it’s going to be a free-for-all for the other one. The margin for error will be very thin.

    You know, the difference between depending on a 3B who was awful as a rookie vs. going out and filling that hole . . .

    The Nats have a deep bullpen, so the 10th-inning free runner rule sort of punishes/works against that depth as well. They’re in a better position to outlast teams over 11-12 innings if necessary than most others are. And again, with a razor-thin margin for the playoffs, a couple of fluky losses in extra innings could have huge consequences.


    9 Feb 21 at 1:14 pm

  21. I’m a broken record, but I don’t see this team as a serious contender right now. We just haven’t improved enough, and the Mets, Braves, and Phillies have all done what they needed to do this winter. Our biggest free agent signing of the winter being Kyle Schwarber is pants.


    9 Feb 21 at 3:24 pm

  22. Sao, you’ll need to take a deep breath before seeing Baseball Propectus’s PECOTA rankings, because it has the Nats in 2nd place this year, behind the Mets.

    Mark L

    10 Feb 21 at 6:46 am

  23. Well, if you believe Pecota, then the Braves (who were on a 95-win pace and won the 2020 division by 4 games in a 60 game season) are projected even lower than us. Do we really believe that?

    I think Pecota persistently undervalues teams, always projects the worst case, etc. Look, someone in the NL East is winning 95 games; it happens every year.

    Todd Boss

    10 Feb 21 at 8:35 am

  24. Keith Law’s Minor league Organizational rankings came out.

    To no surprise, he has Washington dead last.

    His blurb on the nats system:

    The Nats won the World Series in 2019, and as is often the case with teams that do so, they spent a lot of their prospect capital to get there. They’ve traded prospects, drafted lower in the first round and given up some picks for free agents. Their international scouting department has been very aggressive under the new system, however, and the Nats’ system could look a whole lot better in a year if all of their teenage Latin American prospects get a chance to play and show us if their abilities line up with their tools.

    Todd Boss

    10 Feb 21 at 9:29 am

  25. Thanks Todd. As I’ve been saying over on Luke’s site, nobody has seen anyone play in 18 months so let’s take all this with a grain, no, truckload of salt.

    But, before spring training this kind of thing is the most fun we can have on the subject. He’s right about our Latin players. Loads of talent and let us see how they develop.

    Mark L

    10 Feb 21 at 9:39 am

  26. I don’t think anyone disputes that we have a thinned farm system. Our top ranked prospect is either Cavalli (who hasn’t thrown a pro pitch) or Rutledge, neither of which appears in anyone’s top 100 (or if they do it was at the very bottom, as in #99 for Cavalli on MLBpipeline’s ranking). Two of our most promising prospects are super young IFAs who might shoot up in the rankings with a solid 2021 (speaking of Lara and De La Rosa). Everyone says Antuna could be a real sleeper. so there’s hope.

    Todd Boss

    10 Feb 21 at 9:43 am

  27. PECOTA is a joke. Just look at its projections for previous seasons. Not even worth discussing.


    10 Feb 21 at 11:20 am

  28. Two more shops just dropped MInor League org rankings. I may roll them into a post. NOt much to note though; two more that say we’re 30th.

    Todd Boss

    10 Feb 21 at 1:13 pm

  29. Whenever the minor-league season actually starts, Cavalli will spend the entire summer in Wilmington, posting an ERA in the high 3s and a concerning WHIP of 1.4. Rutledge will also start in Wilmington, where he will dominate. Moved to Harrisburg after about six weeks, he will post a sub-2.50 ERA there with a K/9 over 11 and jump into the top 30 of prospect rankings. Henry will start at Fredricksburg, where he will be very good, and move on to Wilmington, where he will look more polished than Cavalli.

    The Nats will skip Antuna over A+, but he will struggle at AA, hitting around .220 (which is what he hit the last time he played), and his Ks will balloon as he spins himself into the ground thinking that he’s now a power hitter.

    I’m skeptical whether Lara, de la Rosa, or Infante will even be ready for full-season ball and may only get a half-season look at GCL. They have pushed some guys like de la Rosa on to full-season A, though, usually to have them struggle.

    Drew Mendoza will find his stroke this season and finish the year in AA and then AFL. The whole key for him will be whether he figures out power as a pro, and I’m skeptical enough not to be too enthusiastic, so I’ll say 15-18 HRs but 25+ doubles.

    Despite no game experience above A-ball, Cronin will end the season in the majors, surpassing Romero in the LHP reliever pecking order.

    A surprise farther down the organization with Ray Torres, the undrafted FA catcher from San Jac who had a major-college pedigree but got derailed by some curious stuff with coaches/attitude/parents. San Jac coaches thought he had grown up, and he looked like he would be an above-average hitter for a backstop.

    The pitching surprise will be Alex Troop who, with an extra year to rehab his arm, will dominate at A+ and be solid at AA, getting added to the 40-man next offseason. I think he’s at least as good as Braymer, who also took a similar time to recover and take off.

    Or I could be completely wrong, and we’ll be here next year with no one in the top 100 and the bloom completely off the few guys for whom there was a flicker of hope. But I hope not.


    10 Feb 21 at 10:40 pm

  30. But just so it’s stated, I will be thrilled if Cavalli blows me away.

    And I forgot about Denaburg, which isn’t hard to do. He’ll be at F’burg, probably have a fairly strong half-year, but then they’ll shut him down out of precaution.

    I’m curious whether Cate will be at AA or AAA. I’ll peg him as decent but not dominant, ERA in mid-3s at AA, K/9 around 8, all similar to what he did at A+. In short, he won’t be as good as Fuentes was at AA at a younger age, but people will continue to insist that Fuentes isn’t a prospect, even while he has a mid-2s ERA at AAA and a K/9 of 9.


    10 Feb 21 at 10:47 pm

  31. On the other topic, about whether the Nats have done enough, I lean toward agreement with Sao. I don’t think they have. These forecasts seem extremely optimistic for a team that was on a 70-92 pace in 2020. Have they REALLY done enough to improve that pace by 15 wins, particularly in a division where it will be difficult to beat any time more than 10-12 times?

    The Nats basically have to have everything go right for them to have a chance in 2021. That’s possible; it’s essentially what happened for the last three-quarters of the 2019 championship run. But it’s unlikely. Max and Stras have to stay healthy and good, and Corbin has to regain his ’18/’19 form. None of those are givens, but I’d bank on them being possible more than I would a return to form from Lester and a 4ish ERA from Ross/Voth/Fedde rather than the more likely 5ish. For once, I think the bullpen looks solid, although Harris and Hudson had some shakiness last season. The other impact could be a lot of 5/6-inning starts that really wear down the bullpen.

    The other big unknown for pitching — for every MLB team — is how all those arms that only went 60-70 innings last summer are going to respond going back to 180-200. That question will be a stupendous wild card in the whole equation.

    Nat lineup: improved at 1B, real concerns at 3B and CF and some concerns at 2B and C (particularly the 60+ games for the backup). For all the talk that Castro can hold down 3B or 2B, he wasn’t very good last year when he played (97 wRC+, .302 OBP), and gosh-awful against RH pitching: .182/.217/.341. Harrison was better, but his performance was an anomaly from his struggles over the last five seasons. Gomes ticked in the right direction in 2020 but wasn’t particularly good at the plate in 2019 and will turn 34 this summer.

    And if Soto or Trea miss any extended time, look out. Even if Trea reverts to his career mean, it will hurt the lineup. For something good to happen in 2021, those two will have to stay at 2020 levels. As much as we like to think that Soto will keep rising, that was one of the 50 or so top batting seasons of all time, and those don’t happen every year, even for the greats.

    Maybe it all works. Maybe the starters stay healthy and dominate, the bullpen holds together, Bell and Schwarber combine to hit 75 homers, Kieboom and Robles find themselves, Juan and Trea continue to do magic things. Even if all of that happens, as tough as the division is, the absolute best I could see would be 88-90 wins. I have a really, really hard time seeing that, though. The realist-optimistic number would be more like 81-83.


    11 Feb 21 at 10:50 am

  32. […] Nats adding their top 2021 IFA Armando Cruz at #5, with no other changes to our top 30 and HMs (I reviewed their list in Feb 2021 here). Cruz at #5 by BA makes them the high men on Cruz’s potential amongst those shops who have rated […]

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