Washington Nationals: The Teams New Core Takes Center Stage
During the 2010s the Nationals were one of the most dominant teams in the league, reaching the postseason five times, winning four NL East titles and a World Series title in 2019. They posted the fourth-most regular-season wins (879) over the last decade, cementing themselves as a National League powerhouse.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end and at the trade deadline, Washington stripped their roster down to the bone. Instead of pushing an exhausted core, they wisely started to reload with an eye on the future.
Tonight, that future will be on full display with Keibert Ruiz primed to make his Nationals debut.
Acquired in the Scherzer/Turner blockbuster, he immediately became the team’s top prospect. Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the 19th prospect in baseball, Ruiz is seen as the team’s future behind the plate.
The 23-year-old spent the past month with the Nationals AAA affiliate, hitting .308, with five homers, 14 RBIs, and an OPS of .942. From the day he arrived, Ruiz showcased why he was the headliner of the trade, flashing his advanced hitting tool.
Earlier in the week, we discussed Ruiz’s game stating,
"“Recently, Ruiz has started to develop some power, hitting 21 homers this year. Over the last four games, he has four homers, which came over a two-game span. Most notably, Ruiz has an exceptional feel for the strike zone, posting a 10.6% K rate in 311 plate appearances, good for 7th in the Minors (minimum 250 plate appearances).”"
While Ruiz’s debut will be the story of the night, the fanbase will get their first look at the team’s future long-term battery. Ruiz will be catching Josiah Gray, the 54th prospect in baseball who was also acquired in the Scherzer/Turner trade. Gray has already made five starts with the Nats and is 0-1, with a 2.89 ERA, 29 strikeouts, and a 5.77 FIP.
Also 23, the Nationals see Gray as part of their next rotation, with top prospects Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge, and Cole Henry all slotted to join him in the coming years.
With a fastball that ranges in the mid-90s, Gray needs to finetune his secondary pitches in order to live up to his full potential to be a front-line starter. Currently, he is seen as Max Scherzer lite, thanks to his high strikeout numbers and the fact he is prone to the long ball. Eight of the nine runs he has allowed have come via solo shots.
Tonight will be the first time the two have played together since the trade, having risen up the Dodger’s farm system together.
During the team’s firesale, the Nationals shipped out eight players including four from the World Series team, in return for 12 prospects. Love or hate the moves, it was time to start over. The Nationals had one of the oldest rosters in baseball and their once vaulted starting rotation was a shell of its former self.
Now the fanbase gets an early glimpse of the team’s return from their franchise-altering decision. But all eyes shouldn’t just be on Gray and Ruiz. Lane Thomas, acquired from the Jon Lester trade, has started to prove that he deserves a starting outfield role moving forward. In 12 games, he is hitting .316, with four RBIs and an OPS of .883.
He needs to work on his swing and miss issues (10 Ks in 38 plate appearances), but has shown he can potentially lead off.
Former top prospects Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia have been holding their own in the infield. Both have been enduring some serious growing pains, but at times the duo has proven why the team views them as part of the future.
In the past Kieboom was thrust in and out of the lineup, while continually being sent up and down. Now, he no longer has to worry about messing up and can just focus on playing baseball. In 30 games he is hitting .226, with four homers, 13 RBIs, and an OPS of .701. Recently, the righty is having a spree of bad luck. He has been constantly crushing the ball, but sadly right at people.
Garcia needs to work on his plate discipline, but that will come as he matures. After all, he is only 21 and with a mere 250 MLB at-bats under his belt. Defensively, Garcia has already shown vast improvement at second base and made a pivotal play to save the game the other night.
Mason Thompson (acquired in the Daniel Hudson trade) Riley Adams (acquired for Brad Hand) and Patrick Bailey (recently claimed off of waivers) have all made their debuts with the team with some success. Tres Barrera who was just sent back down to make room for Keibert has been a pleasant surprise at the plate. Expect him to battle it out with Adams for the backup role moving forward.
While the rebuild has just begun, Nationals fans should take solace in getting a first look at the early returns of what is to come.