Who are the Nationals top pitching prospects?
Mike Rizzo has built the Washington Nationals on the strength of their pitching staff. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Anibal Sanchez form the big four, while Joe Ross is projected to be the fifth starter. The pitching staff played a huge part in the Nationals winning their first-ever World Series title in 2019 and will be expected to carry the team for the foreseeable future. However, the teams pitching staff isn’t getting any younger.
Scherzer is entering his age 36 season and coming off the first significant injury of his career. Sanchez is also 36 and on the backend of his career. Strasburg is entering his age 32 season but, has suffered multiple injuries in his career. After inking him to a new deal worth 245 million, the Nats are hoping his injuries are behind him. Corbin turns 31 in July and coming off a career year. He should benefit from the season being delayed after having a heavy workload in the playoffs. Joe Ross only turns 27 in May but, will need to prove his injuries are behind him.
The Nats have one of the thinnest farm systems in baseball but, have some intriguing pitching prospects. Will their young prospects be able to eventually take over for some of the Nats rotation? Let’s take a look at the team’s top pitching prospects.
Drafted number 17 overall in 2019, Jackson Rutledge has already shot up the Nats farm system to become the team’s top pitching prospect. Rutledge has top of the rotation potential and excelled at the collegiate level.
He started his freshman year at the University of Arkansas before tearing the labrum in his hip. He decided to transfer to San Jacinto College and that’s where he started to make a name for himself. In 2019, he went 9-2, with a .87 ERA, and 134 strikeouts in 82.2 innings. After being drafted, Rutledge spent the rest of 2019 between the Rookie League, Class A, and Single A. Between the three clubs, Rutledge went 2-0, with a 3.13 ERA, and 39 strikeouts in 37.1 innings.
MLB Pipeline had this to say about Rutledge,
“At 6-foot-8, Rutledge has a physical presence on the mound that he backs up with a powerful four-pitch mix. His plus-plus fastball reaches 99 mph and averaged 96 mph during his six starts at Hagerstown, and he showed the ability to carry that premium velocity deep into starts as an amateur. His heater has riding life at the top of the strike zone and sink toward the bottom, though its movement isn’t as consistent as its velocity. He has a second plus offering in an upper-80s slider that plays nicely off his fastball and nets him whiffs with its depth and late bite.”
After being the 12th ranked prospect entering the 2019 draft, he fell to the Nats which seems like a blessing. Rutledge has the opportunity this season to take the minors by storm and fly through the farm system. If he lives up to his potential, the Nats seem to have drafted their next ace.
Wil Crowe is the team’s second-ranked pitching prospect and fourth overall prospect. A second-round pick in 2017 out of the University of South Carolina, Crowe tore his UCL and underwent Tommy John surgery in college. The Nats weren’t fazed by this as they are known for taking flyers on pitchers who have undergone the surgery. After returning from his injury, in his final year at school, Crowe went 6-5, with a 3.41 ERA, and 90 strikeouts in 92.1 innings.
MLB Pipeline had this to say about Crowe,
“After wearing down towards the end of his first full season, Crowe was the epitome of durable in 2019 as he paced all Nats farmhands with 149 1/3 innings. Improving his breaking balls and overall pitch usage are the last boxes to check in Crowe’s development, and he should have no problem carving out a role as a No. 4 or 5 starter once that is in place.”
Last season Crowe split time between Double and Triple A. He started off at Triple-A, where he went 7-6, with a 3.87 ERA, and 89 strikeouts in 95.1 innings. Crowe was then promoted to Triple-A where he struggled. In Triple-A, he went 0-4, with a 6.17 ERA, and 41 strikeouts in 54 innings. Opponents hit .303 against him. Crowe will need to vastly improve at Triple-A, and 2020 will be a prove-it year for the 25-year-old. His 2020 performance will show if he will be able to help out in the Nationals rotation.
Only 17 years old, Andry Lara is Washington’s third-ranked pitching prospect according to MLB Pipeline. The team saw Lara as a top pitching prospect in the International class and agreed to a deal worth 1.25 million.
MLB Pipeline had this to say about the youngster.
“Lara is physically advanced for his age, with a strong frame, long arms and good delivery that all bode well for his future development. His fastball can touch 95 mph and already hovers in the 92-94 mph range, with the potential for more velocity as he adds strength. Lara complements his fastball with a hard, slurvy breaking ball that should be at least above average, and he shows feel for turning over a promising changeup with sinking action.”
At the beginning of April, MLB.com did a piece on choosing a future ace for each team. Jessica Camerato, MLB.com’s Nationals beat reporter, chose Lara as the Nationals representative. Having only thrown in the teams Fall and Dominican instructional leagues, Lara is still a relative unknown but, is surrounded by plenty of hype. 2020 will be the first real glimpse at where Lara can land in the rotation.
The Nats signed Eddy Yean during the 2017-18 International period for $100,00. He struggled at the Rookie-level in 2018 before impressing in 2019 between the Rookie League and Class-A. In 2018, he went 1-2, with a 5.98 ERA, and 32 strikeouts, in 43.2 innings. Opponents hit .322 against him, while he walked 23 batters. In 2019 he adapted to the competition, as he went 1-2, with a 3.82 ERA, and 36 strikeouts in 35.1 innings. He walked only 12 batters and held opponents to a .232 average. Yean finished the 2019 season at the Single-A Short League. He went 1-1, with a 2.45 ERA, and seven strikeouts in 11 innings. The 18-year-old walked five while holding opponents to a .179 average.
MLB Pipeline had this to say about Yean.
“Yean’s improved velocity can be attributed to his recent physical gains, as he’s quickly grown into his projectable frame without it detracting from his athleticism and clean delivery. His explosive fastball touches 97 mph and parks in the low- to mid-90s with late life and angle, setting up an 84-86 mph slider with depth that projects as at least an above-average pitch. A promising changeup gives Yean another potential weapon, and club officials were pleased with his progress during instructional league in developing the pitch.”
Similar to Lara, 2020 will give the team a good look at what Yean can become.