Nationals Arm Race

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

What are the Nats going to do with all these OFs?


Crews; does he start in High-A or AA in 2024? Photo via his twitter.

So, heading into the 2023 draft, a slew of the Nats’ top prospect talents were outfielders. Look at any prospect ranking list for our system and you’ll see top 10 players like Wood, Hassell, Green, Vaquero, etc. I was on board early pining for Skenes as our pick at 1-2 instead of Crews, thinking that, “hey we have a lot of top-end OF talent” and, also, “hey we need some starter prospects.” Alas it was not meant to be; Skenes blew up in the CWS and Pittsburgh popped him 1-1.

So we went and drafted Crews in the 1st, plus Pinckney in the 4th and Nunez in the 14th.

Where the heck are all these guys going to play?

Here’s a quick look at the OF depth chart thanks to the Big Board, with what it looks like now and what it may look like in 2024 with this influx of new talent.

Right now, listing guys in order LF/CF/RF and then backups/DHs

  • AAA: Rutherford, Hill, Alu, with Reyes and Blankenhorn as backups.

Most of these guys are MLFAs signed either in 2022 or 2023. Hill just got DFA’d off the 40-man. Alu is kind of a utility guy who’s filling in in the OF right now. Mazara just got released. Rutherford is crushing the ball this season, but I wonder if any of these guys are really in the long term plans for the team. I could see a couple of them getting call-ups post-trade deadline if we move some players and need some bodies (Alu since he’s on the 40-man, probably Rutherford too b/c he’s earned it). But for 2024, lots of room here.

  • AA: Young, Hassell, Wood, with Harris and Casey as backups.

Wood and Hassell are basically our two top prospects right now, but both are struggling in AA. Young got promoted up this year and is hitting .300 in AA so far but has no power. Casey was demoted down to AA and is a backup, and seems like he’s not long for the organization. Harris seems like an undersized backup.

  • High-A: Lile, De La Rosa, McKenzie with Shumpert, Antuna, Wilson as backups.

Antuna is hitting .176 and seems to finally have been taken out of a starting spot; this latest draft class should finally result in his release. Shumpert is a converted SS. Lile just got promoted up to High-A, otherwise nobody here is hitting well. Wilson is 27 and was demoted from AAA for some reason. Its hard to see any of these guys pushing for a promotion the rest of the way.

  • Low-A: Emiliani, Green, De La Cruz, with Quintana, Thomas as backups

Emiliani was a 1B but apparently can lumber around LF now, and just got demoted back to Low-A. Quintana may be permanently moved to 1B and may not count here. Green, for all his prospect starlight, is not hitting well at all. De La Cruz is struggling. So is Thomas. Seems like these guys will be repeating Low-A unless they blow up the rest of the way.

  • FCL: Ochoa Leyva, Vaquero, Cox with Baca and a slew of guys hitting under .200

Vaquero is the big-name here and he’s hitting .300 as an 18yr old so far in Rookie. Ochoa Leyva holding his own. Cox is not and is looking like a huge 4th round bust so far.

  • DSL: Tejada, Acevedo, Batista with Soto and three other 2023 IFAs as backups.

Batista hitting .303, the rest of them hitting like .150. I can’t see any of them getting promoted.

Here’s what we could be looking at as your starting OFs 2024. Maybe it’s not quite as hard as I thought.

  • AAA: Hassell, Wood, Rutherford, with MLFAs (Hill, Blankenhorn, Reyes released or resigned)
  • AA: Young, Harris, McKenzie, Lile (Casey relesaed)
  • High-A: Crews, Pinckney, Green, De la Rosa, Shumpert (Wilson, Antuna released)
  • Low-A: Vaquero, De La Cruz, Nunez, Ochoa Leyva (Thomas, Emiliani released)
  • FCL: Cox, Baca, Batista, Marte, Peoples (Contreras, Ramirez released)
  • DSL: Current crew plus 2024 signees forcing 2023 underperformer relases

This would mean:

  • Aggressively promote Wood in particular to AAA and hope that Hassell continues to develop. Rutherford back in AAA assuming we layer him in the MLB level, otherwise looking at more veteran MLFAs for AAA.
  • Definitely aggressive with promotions of McKenzie and Lile to AA, based on their already being promoted this season. Harris and Young treading water.
  • This would put new draftees Crews and Pinckney at High-A to start 2024. I do not buy that Crews will do the AFL->AA Strasburg path. Maybe he will and you’re seeing Lile or McKenzie back in High A instead.
  • High-A also has too many players … that’s the squeeze. So maybe that does support Crews in AA. this plan has Green promoted (even though he’s not meriting right now) but DLR staying put.
  • Nunez at Low-A. Seems right. He is joined by two guys moving up from rookie ball. But not Cox, who may be a blown 4th rounder.
  • Everyone else in Rookie ball/DSL staying put, or perhaps 1-2 DSL guys moving inland.

So, maybe the crunch isn’t as bad as we thought. Eventually though if these guys all matriculate as expected, we’re going to have some logjams in the MLB outfield, and likely some trades to acquire assets.

Written by Todd Boss

July 26th, 2023 at 11:30 am

10 Responses to 'What are the Nats going to do with all these OFs?'

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  1. Antuna currently is in the FCL. I don’t know if that was a straight demotion or if there’s some injury rehab involved. The bizarre thing is that he’s still only 23!

    I’m intrigued by Rutherford. He’s really cut down his K’s with the Nats and has significant gap power, if not full HR power. He should be an effective MLB reserve as a floor, maybe the next Lane Thomas as a ceiling.


    26 Jul 23 at 12:19 pm

  2. Here’s a question: come 2026-27, which three are the Nats’ starting OF? You can only pick three. You can even extend Thomas and/or Robles to be part of those three if you wish.

    I think nearly everyone would start with Wood and Crews. There’s still a small chance that Wood doesn’t make enough contact, but there’s also a good possibility that he could be a 40+ homer monster.

    I have almost no doubt that Crews will make it because he is a contact machine. Will he develop enough HR power to be seen as an upper-tier star? Will that matter if he is “just” a Rendon-like contact machine?

    The tricky part among the rest of the OF field is being right about which ones to trade and which to keep. There’s not going to be space for Hassell, Green, Vaquero, Lile, and the rest to all be starters. And the Nats believe in de la Rosa enough that they have him on the 40-man (for reasons unknown). If Green starts making regular contact, he would have the most trade value, but also the most “potential” in a Nat OF. I’m of the opinion of Hassell that it’s very difficult to judge him right now because of the multiple hand/wrist injuries. At the time of the trade, he was thought to be an elite talent. There were/are questions about his power level, though, as their are with Lile. Lile and Vaquero both have shown great plate discipline for guys so young, but Vaquero has yet to show any power.

    I’m dodging the question. My #3 OF by 2027 will be . . . Vaquero, with Green the cornerstone of a big trade, Hassell not completely panning out and becoming a reserve, and Lile moved to 1B/DH.


    26 Jul 23 at 12:44 pm

  3. Since there are three outfield spots at every level, I don’t see a real problem having an OF heavy prospect pipeline. In my experience these things tend to work themselves out naturally as some players emerge, some players take longer, some get hurt, and some flop.

    John C.

    26 Jul 23 at 2:41 pm

  4. Good point John C. It’s quite concerning that the Nats don’t have anywhere near the same level of depth in the middle infield, which we discussed at draft time. They have maybe the guys for the future already in the majors with Abrams and Garcia, but neither is a mortal lock, and there’s not much behind them unless you consider Alu or Lipscomb at 2B. There’s nothing at SS, other than crossing their fingers on their big investment in Armando Cruz.

    Of course the Nats also thought they had mortal locks around 2011-12 in Desi and Espy. And we know how that played out.

    I also think some of the OF depth will get moved to 1B. T.J. White already has been. In this age of the DH, that’s not as confining a label as it used to be.


    26 Jul 23 at 3:35 pm

  5. Starting Nats OF in 2026? Crews, Wood, Hassell. Maybe if Green figures it out he or Wood move to 1B.

    Todd Boss

    26 Jul 23 at 4:18 pm

  6. There are many who assume that Wood will be the one ending up at 1B, but he’s a gazelle with really good instincts. I’m not swearing that he’ll end up in CF, but there’s also no rush to move him.

    Hassell seems to be finding a little mojo this week, perhaps finally getting healthy. Fingers crossed.

    As for the previous trade market post, with Othani not available and Giolito already traded, it’s a very tight starting pitching market. There’s even talk of there being a market for Lance Lynn, who has the worst ERA in MLB among qualified starters. All of this leads me to believe that we may be underestimating the market/potential return for Trevor Williams. And could this actually be an opportunity to move Corbin? It’s a long shot, as he’d have to waive his no-trade and the Nats likely would have to kick in at least $10M toward is ballooning 2024 salary. You would have to think that Corbin would be willing to go to a contender if the opportunity presents.

    Speaking of starting pitching, what a great outing on Thursday by Josiah Gray. Ride him gently for the rest of this season, please. There’s no need to burn out his future on the current year.


    28 Jul 23 at 1:24 pm

  7. Regarding Wood’s position, he will be a C.F. for a very long time. Keith Law was saying after the Crews signing that if both come up to the show together Wood will play center and Crews right as Crews is an excellent but Wodd is already gold glove material.

    Mark L

    29 Jul 23 at 9:51 am

  8. . . . and the Dodgers trade for Lance Lynn, as well as the Nats’ favorite ex-Dodger, Joe Kelly (who surrendered Kendrick’s NLCS-winning grand slam, which still may be my favorite of the many epic 2019 postseason homers). Whatever Lynn was worth, Trevor Williams is worth twice as much. What a terrible market if they’re trading for the guy with the worst starter ERA in baseball.


    29 Jul 23 at 1:41 pm

  9. So, reading the tea leaves of the sports writers … the lack of starting pitching may open up a door for Trevor Williams. maybe. But for sure Candelario and maybe even Thomas. Lets hope.

    Todd Boss

    31 Jul 23 at 9:10 am

  10. Candy traded tonight, for not much at all, Cub prospects in the mid-teens of their system. Might not even be Jeremy de la Rosa quality, which is what I had predicted.

    Conflicting stories on Lane Thomas. Rosenthal said Nats not looking to move him, Nightingale saying different. It’s a tough call, as the Nats certainly won’t be as good a team without him next season if he’s gone.


    31 Jul 23 at 10:05 pm

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