Nationals Arm Race

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Fangraphs/Longenhagen Nats top prospect list drops


Rutledge gets the #1 nod from Fangraphs. Photo via BA

The last of the “major” pundits has released their Nats prospect ranking lists for the 2021 season, with Fangraph’s lead prospect writer Eric Longenhagen teaming with Tess Taruskin to release their top 22 Nats prospects for 2021.

Why 22 prospects, instead of 10 or 20 or some other round number? Fangraphs drives their rankings via a “Future Value” metric, so the deeper your system is, the more prospects you will have on their list. The cutoff is a “35+ FV,” which projects as something between a 4-A career guy and a bench role player. Yes, you may immediately draw some conclusions about the depth of our system by the number who reached that plateau; by way of comparison a “good” farm system in Tampa had no fewer than 62 players make their 2021 fangraphs list by using the same 35+ cutoff.

So, yeah, we have some work to do… but we already knew that since every macro ranking of our system done this year has us dead last as a system.

Anyway, here’s the Fangraphs list, with some commentary about how these rankings fare side-by-side with other pundits.

Fangraphs 2021 rankLast NameFirst NamePositionAcquisition
1RutledgeJacksonRHP (Starter)2019 1st
2CavalliCadeRHP (Starter)2020 1st
3AntunaYaselSS2016 IFA
4LaraAndryRHP (Starter)2019 IFA
5De La RosaJeremyOF (corner)2018 IFA
6RomeroSethLHP (Starter)2017 1st
7CroninMattLHP (reliever)2019 4th
8HenryColeRHP (Starter)2020 2nd
9PinedaIsraelC2016 IFA
10CateTimLHP (Starter)2018 2nd
11InfanteSamuelSS2020 2nd supp
12CruzArmandoSS2020 IFA
13AdonJoanRHP (Starter)2016 IFA
14MendozaDrew3B2019 3rd
15DenaburgMasonRHP (Starter)2018 1st
16QuintanaRoismarOF (CF)2019 IFA
17CluffJacksonSS2019 6th
18PowellHoldenRHP (Reliever)2020 3rd
19BrzykcyZachRHP (Reliever)2020 NDFA
20BarreraTresC2016 6th
21SchallerReidRHP (Starter)2018 3rd
22PetersonToddRHP (starter)2019 7th

Commentary in rough order of list:

  • FG went with Rutledge over Cavalli for #1. At the end of the prospect season, these two basically split the #1 overall spot among major pundits, with FG, ESPN, and BleacherReport going with Rutledge #1, while BA, Keith Law, and MLBpipeline all went with Cavalli.
  • They’re now high rankers on De La Rosa, putting him at #5 in the system. It sounds like the projection for him is basically a lesser version of Juan Soto; lefty power hitting corner outfielder.
  • They have Romero still high, at #6, but added no intelligence as to why he did not appear in spring training 2021. Still projects two 60-grade pitches, but his fastball has fallen out of favor and they have him with 40-command. That’s a reliever, and not necessarily a good one, at best.
  • One of the reasons FG is high man on both De La Rosa and Romero is because they’re well lower on Cole Henry than anyone else, having him 8th. It sounds to me like they think he’s heading into relief, much like the guy ranked just above him Matt Cronin.
  • They’re well above anyone else on Israel Pineda, and i’m not really sure why. In the middle of last season, the same evaluator ranked him #16. What’s substantively changed since August?
  • He’s pumping the brakes on Armando Cruz, ranking him at #12 where a number of the major evaluators already have him 5-7 range.
  • He’s put Denaburg all the way down to #15, noting that his pro career/injury record now puts him nearly below non-prospects. Great 1st rounder guys!
  • He’s got Zach Brzykcy, a NDFA $20k signing from last summer, in the top 20 of our system. I suppose that does say something about our system depth, but Longenhagen does note that Bryzcky is one of a handful of NDFAs who have impressed and would have been legitimate draft picks with a longer draft. 2-pitch, pure reliever.
  • Last man in the rankings is Todd Peterson, mr coming out of nowhere for this team, who hung around Spring Training longer than most of our 1st round multi-million dollar prospects. He’s projecting as middle relief, with 2 good pitches, decent velocity and excellent deception in his delivery.

Nowhere in this list are a handful of characters that are well regarded on other lists. That includes Daniel Marte, Tyler Dyson, Jake Irvin (likely b/c he’s missing all of 2021 with a TJ), Ben Braymer, Viandel Pena ….

And of course Steven Fuentes is missing … who only just got a call-up…. to the majors … which is kind of the whole damn point of being a prospect? It does make me question what these guys are really looking for … if you project some 2-pitch guy as a possible middle reliever in the major leagues, then flat out don’t rank a starter who actually DOES make the majors … at age 23 … then what are we ranking/evaluating on? I’m not discounting prospect evaluation work entirely by any means (to head off some of my frequent commenters who are bound to pick up on this and disclaim all prospect rankers), but I do sense there’s a specific blind side in these evaluators when it comes to certain kinds of players. Fuentes (and Ben Braymer) fit right into that gap; a starter who doesn’t project as a stud, guys who get by on command/control instead of velocity. Maybe that’s the point; maybe guys like Fuentes/Braymer are such a “dime a dozen” kind of 4-A players that they specifically never get ranked … but if you have a prospect catcher ranked in the teens who does not ever project to make the majors, wouldn’t by definition you have a guy who IS capable of making the majors (whether its as a long-man, or a middle reliever, or the backup 2nd baseman) ranked higher? A theoretical question.

22 Responses to 'Fangraphs/Longenhagen Nats top prospect list drops'

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  1. Wow, not big believers in Cole Henry, huh? From what I’ve read, the Nats talk him up alongside Cav/Rut as their “Big Three”, but I’ll admit, I’m skeptical also. Henry’s ceiling just doesn’t seem to be projected as high, and while it’s unfair to judge based on an inning (LOL) in spring training (LOL), I think Henry appeared to be a clear step below from Cav/Rut from what I saw.

    Mason Denaburg in freaking freefall, down to #15 with a 35+ FV. That’s brutal for a first-round pick, even one in the mid- to late 20s.

    Sure are a lot of single-inning relievers on this list (and I do appreciate the way FG breaks them out and distinguishes types of pitchers). I’m not really sure what to make of that, nor their projection that’s where Henry, Cate, and Adon end up.

    That’s a disappointingly low ranking for Armando Cruz. He seems to be a very divisive prospect. Everyone agrees he could play a major league shortstop right now. But some evaluators think he’s going to hit, and some evaluators think he’s not. Looks like FG comes down on the latter side. But below Sammy Infante is rough.

    Striking that none of these guys except Tres Barrera have played at AA or AAA. Which, come to think of it, where are Steven Fuentes and Sam Clay here?

    As always, I’m skeptical of FV in general because it seems to be trying to quantify a mean outcome (based on risk and not raw talent) instead of a median outcome. Realistically, some of these 40+/45 FV types (not necessarily in our system, but maybe!) will actually end up being 60- to 65-grade major league ballplayers, but a bunch will also end up topping out at AA or end up being Taylor Jordan or Matt Skole types who get a bit of major league time but never establish themselves as major league ballplayers at all. I don’t think many of them will actually have lengthy major league careers as 40+/45 FV players. Some will, but many will boom or they’ll bust. I think FV would be more useful as a scale than a single number.


    23 Apr 21 at 7:12 pm

  2. This period in time will go down as the most words and rankings of players without anyone actually seeing players play in history.

    Opening day in 2 weeks can’t come soon enough.

    Mark L

    24 Apr 21 at 7:21 am

  3. I propose a new FV scale: the Fuentes Value scale. Fuentes had an above-average season at AA at 22, usually an indicator of a good chance of making the majors. Yet he has been either ignored (FG) or at best relegated to the nether regions of nearly all of these prospect lists, which, as Mark reminds up, are based on no real game action.

    Anyway, here’s my Fuentes Value scale: I say that no more than three players on the FanGraphs list will post more WAR at the MLB level than Fuentes. I say that with full knowledge that most relievers don’t produce big WAR totals. Brad Hand, an above-average reliever, has a career 7.5 fWAR.

    So who ya got? What four players do you think will post higher career MLB WAR than Fuentes? All you need to “win” is four. Do you think four or more players here will post five or more WAR in the majors? I don’t.


    24 Apr 21 at 2:18 pm

  4. Now let’s read between the lines here. Longenhagen is really pumping the brakes on both Rutledge and Cavalli, and I tend to agree. I mean, neither is a “top 100 prospect.” He’s more bullish on Rutledge, but if you look at the grades, he only has Rutledge with two “plus” pitches, which usually means “bullpen.” Cavalli has three decently graded pitches, but only at 55 apiece, not giving him any one outstanding weapon.

    As I’ve said many times, I hope all these guys make it and are stars. But there’s a lot of realism here that needs to be taken at face value.

    Like when you get to the #3 player in our system, and he’s evaluated with “his 2020 fall eyeball report reads like a good role player.” So anyone rated below Antuna has a ceiling of a not-so-good role player? Ouch.

    Of course the #6 player on the list flashed a substandard fastball in his very brief MLB appearance, then completely and totally disappeared. So everyone below #6 is worse than a head case who can’t break glass?

    First I’ve seen that Pineda might not be able to stick at catcher. Yet he’s rated ahead of Infante, Cruz, and Mendoza? Ouch.

    I agree with Sao on Cruz over Infante. In fact, I might have Cruz over Antuna, who has shown hands of stone and has yet to do much at the plate in real games. That said, I don’t have great confidence in Cruz’s bat.

    I’m glad there’s buzz about De La Rosa, but he sure didn’t show much in his one real season. Sounds like he’s filled out a good bit since then. But until he starts hitting actual game pitching, and hitting some of it with distance, I’ll reserve my excitement.

    If forced to pick the best hitting prospect in the system, I’d probably say Mendoza, even though most of the prospect lists are fairly down on him. Interesting that FG still believes in his 60/70 raw power, if not much of anything else. Maybe he’s just the new Matt Skole. But Skole of old would be a top-5 player in this system right now.

    I’m on record as a Cronin fan. It would not surprise me if he turns out to be the top pitcher in the majors of the 13 arms listed among the 22 players here. Part of that is that he’s already being allowed to develop as a reliever, rather than the others being expected to fail as starters before they try their hand at relief. There’s a different mentality to relief pitching, to approaching a single inning, to setting up hitters — everything.

    At the same time, Henry was a better starting pitcher in college, in a better conference, than Cavalli was.

    So . . . who would I put on my FV list to top Fuentes? Rutledge, Henry, Cronin, and Cruz. But there’s also a chance that Mendoza tops all of them . . . but only a small chance.


    24 Apr 21 at 2:54 pm

  5. Also, big gaffe saying that Yadiel signed out of Mexico. He’s from Cuba. That’s why he couldn’t/didn’t sign until he was 29. Maybe he escaped through Mexico so technically signed from there, but he’s Cuban. Hernandez was one of the best hitters in the PCL in 2019, so it’s not like he’s been hiding in obscurity . . . like half the Nats’ list.


    24 Apr 21 at 3:00 pm

  6. It’s also tough to evaluate our system because 1) we didn’t opt into video-sharing last year, so no one who wasn’t invited has seen our prospects outside of instructs, winter league, or Grapefruit League appearances this spring; and 2) nearly every notable prospect on our farm is either fresh out of the 2020 draft, signed as an international amateur in 2019-21, or has all of one professional season under his belt.

    I’m not saying we have a farm full of Strasburgs and Sotos and it’s criminally underrated, but I do think it’s hard for evaluators (especially of the armchair variety) to get a real sense of what they’re looking at. It’s a lot of guesswork. (That goes the other way too, where as KW notes, Cav/Rut could be looking like future #4/5 starters or back-end relievers now in the Nats’ internal evaluations, while most of the rest of baseball world still thinks of them as future #1/2 types.)


    24 Apr 21 at 3:30 pm

  7. I would be happy if Cav/Rut develop into effect #4/5 starters, and I don’t mean that as a knock on them. Do you know how much cash the Nats have spent over the years due to their inability to fill out the back end of their rotation from within? I mean, Fedde was a 1st-round pick, and seven years later, we’re still hoping that he can stick as a #5.

    It’s really, really hard to “steal” a top-of-rotation starter outside the top 10 picks, and the Nats are on a long run of reaches while trying to do so, dating back to Fedde (or Giolito, or Mayer and Purke). Really, the only one picked in the 1st round not immediately acclaimed to be a top-tier starter was Dunning, and he seems well on his way to being a pretty decent #4/5. I’ve been more pleased by picks like Crowe and Henry, who were good value where they were picked.

    Other than sort of the dumb-luck late bloom of Roark, who wasn’t one of their draftees, the Nats haven’t been able to come up with mid/late-rotation guys from within. Ross (also not one of their draftees) might have done so without the injuries and looked really good for a while.


    24 Apr 21 at 3:45 pm

  8. The Nats have a bottom system at the moment. But I think part of that is due to the fact we didn’t have a minor league season last year. There may be some breakout candidates in this system but nobody has seen them play actual games. I’m holding any judgement on this system overall until actual games are played and stats are accumulated. There are several players I excited to see what they do (or not do). Plus it would seem the variance of the Nats system is great. Some people seem to really like Daniel Marte, but Longenhagen doesn’t even mention him when discussing the young Latin prospects. We will soon see if even a few of these players develop helium once the games start.


    25 Apr 21 at 9:21 am

  9. Despite all the disrespect the Nats have shown Yadiel over the years, he keeps proving that he belongs. He even showed some smoothness in the field yesterday.

    Mark L

    25 Apr 21 at 10:57 am

  10. Bounce — I’ll second the Marte mention. There are not too many other under-the-radar hitters in the organization I can think of, though. Maybe Ray Torres, the undrafted FA catcher? It wouldn’t surprise me if he turns out better than Pineda. Longenhagen also doesn’t mention OFs Cody Wilson (already a “major-leaguer”) or Jacob Rhinesmith.

    Todd mentioned what I find to be an amazing pitching omission: Tyler Dyson. He was an NRI to Spring Training (after not pitching above Auburn) and was touching 97 last fall, so he’s obviously on the team’s radar, if not that of the prospect gurus. He was a big-time pitcher for a big-time college program (started and dominated the CWS-clinching game as a frosh) who fell after some junior struggles. Love or hate Rutledge, Cavalli, or Henry all you want, but Dyson has just as much of a pedigree as those guys, if not more. He’s got just as much chance as any of them to end up in the rotation.

    One of the very last of Longenhagen’s leftover mentions was a guy I have always thought might be something, and I think Sao has, too: Alex Troop. Even though he’s gotten older during the layoff, he’s also gotten more of a chance for his arm to get completely healthy. This is still just his age-24 season even though he was drafted in 2017.

    Another lefty for the mix: Mitchell Parker, the 5th-round pick last summer. He had freakish stats at JUCO, pretty similar to those of Rutledge.


    25 Apr 21 at 4:46 pm

  11. As if to say thank you. Yadiel reached base safely on all 4 of his AB’s.
    With Soto out, the Nats have 4 outfielders on the active roster. Victor Robles is their 4th best outfielder at this point. When Soto comes back he will be their 5th best.

    Robles has an OPS of .611 and when he does reach base he’s likely to do something moronic. Your average Little Leaguer knows fundamentals better than Robles.

    KW, have you or anyone else seen any video of Mitchell Parker? He has a pitching style that is fascinating, can’t wait to see it live!

    Mark L

    25 Apr 21 at 6:03 pm

  12. And despite all of this … despite being without their #2 and $4 starters and their best player … the Nats are just 2 games out of first.

    Todd Boss

    26 Apr 21 at 8:44 am

  13. Yeah, it sure was fun to see Atlanta get swept yesterday!

    Mark L

    26 Apr 21 at 11:46 am

  14. Parker’s delivery:

    It looks smooth, and he hides the ball a long time.

    Todd — I keep having the same thoughts. This whole season has seemed like a massive struggle for the Nats, and yet they’re just two games back, essentially tied for 3d in the division. No one is running away with the division, or the 2d wild card. I’m really surprised in particular with how much the Braves have struggled.

    Mark — the only saving grace with Robles is the .343 OBP, due a big jump in his walk rate. Everything else is ugly and looks a lot like 2020. He’s currently making 17% hard contact. This is why I really, really wanted the Nats to sign another OF, although the guy I advocated, Pillar has sucked even worse.

    Not a lot of easy answers in CF, either. Stevo is hitting .244, but with an awful .289 OBP. Insane to even think about someone with that number leading off right now.

    As for Yadiel, he may be a bigger threat to Schwarber’s playing time whenever Soto comes back. Yadiel certainly seems to be doing enough to warrant staying on the MLB roster. We don’t know for sure whether Stevo has an option left, though. Parra is still lurking out there somewhere as well, although he must still be not really recovered if they didn’t activate him when Soto went down.


    26 Apr 21 at 12:29 pm

  15. Parker, we should not forget, was a pretty severely underslot guy … so we should manage expectations. Delivery does look smooth, I like this 12-6 curve. here’s his BA scouting report pre 2020 draft:

    Drafted in the 5th round (153rd overall) by the Washington Nationals in 2020 (signed for $100,000)
    San Jacinto (Texas) JC averaged 13 strikeouts per nine innings as a team this spring, so high strikeout numbers are commonplace for the Gators. But even on a team that collected strikeouts in bunches, Parker stood out. He had 64 strikeouts and 18 walks in 30.1 innings, good for 19 strikeouts per nine innings to lead all of NJCAA D-I. Parker has a strong lower half and some funkiness to his delivery that makes it hard for hitters to get comfortable swings. His two-seam fastball sits 89-93 mph with some armside run and an above-average spin rate. His big-breaking, mid-70s downer curveball plays well off his fastball. He struggles to locate his breaking ball at times, but it’s a plus pitch when it’s. His splitter functions as his changeup and shows above-average potential with some late fade. He’s tinkered with a slider, but it hasn’t really developed. Parker is a Kentucky signee.

    Todd Boss

    27 Apr 21 at 10:11 am

  16. I’m not betting that Parker will be a star. But he looks like he could have a high ceiling with some polish, higher than that of a number of guys who are ranked. But I was mainly mentioning him in response to the question of who some under-the-radar guys might be who no one is talking about. If he figures it out, he’s got a high ceiling. If he doesn’t it, it still was sure worth it giving him under-slot to find out.


    28 Apr 21 at 6:53 pm

  17. In this season where nothing has gone according to script, it’s comforting to find one constant in life — the Nats will always clobber Steven Matz, no matter what uni he is wearing.

    Still not sure what to make of the Fedde emergence, but it’s certainly significant if it sticks. They’ve also had some well-timed days off that have kept them from having to use Espino again.

    Despite all the craziness and injuries, the Nats are just 1.5 games out of first place, which just may be the craziest thing of all. Big divisional stretch upcoming with MIA/ATL/NYM.


    29 Apr 21 at 7:34 am

  18. Looks like the Nats can use four starters up through May 8 because of days off. Lester threw six innings on Sunday, but it sounds like Davey wants him to do it again before activating him. Sounds like he’s close, though. Perhaps he and Soto can be back within the next 7-10 days. Haven’t heard anything about Stras.


    29 Apr 21 at 1:46 pm

  19. Win three in a row and you’re in a virtual tie for 1st! What a country! Lester shows up and is amazing in his first outing (leaving him nowhere to go but down, I guess). Maybe Corbin, Schwarber, and Bell are starting to work things out. Got to hope that Robles follows suit. Yadiel is making the most of his long-delayed actual MLB opportunity. Soto and Stras are both progressing in their recoveries. There are suddenly some real glimmers of hope in the season that has been played under a dark cloud thus far.


    2 May 21 at 8:36 am

  20. Ladies & Gentlemen, your 1st place Washington Nationals!

    Mark L

    2 May 21 at 4:09 pm

  21. I was just going to post that! 🙂

    Todd Boss

    3 May 21 at 9:26 am

  22. This division looks a lot more winnable than it did on paper. Still a LONG way to go, but the Braves seem to have too many pitching problems to go on a long, sustained run, even when they inevitably start hitting. The Mets aren’t scoring, and they’ve got bullpen and starter-depth issues. I don’t fear the Phils.

    Of course it’s not guaranteed that the Nats are more than a .500 team, but recent trends are positive. They are heavily invested in starting pitching, so that’s going to have to carry them to a certain extinct. Bullpen could be the Nats’ best ever if it doesn’t wear out. They’ve just got to hit consistently, particularly Bell/Schwarber/Robles. On the plus side, Harrison is doing his best Howie imitation thus far.


    3 May 21 at 12:00 pm

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