Washington Nationals: Checking In On Key Prospects

DENVER, CO - JULY 11: Cade Cavalli #20 of National League Futures Team pitches against the American League Futures Team at Coors Field on July 11, 2021 in Denver, Colorado.(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JULY 11: Cade Cavalli #20 of National League Futures Team pitches against the American League Futures Team at Coors Field on July 11, 2021 in Denver, Colorado.(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

All eyes should be on these key prospects in Washington’s farm system.

In years past, the Nationals farm system had become barren and there weren’t many prospects to keep an eye on. Since their firesale at the trade deadline, that is no longer the case. Entering the 2021 season, Washington’s farm system was the worst in the league, but now it is brimming with talent. But which key prospects should fans be looking out for?

Cade Cavalli

Drafted by the Nationals number 22 overall in 2020, Cade Cavalli exceeded any expectations that were placed on him. The flamethrower made his Minor League debut this season after spending 2020 at Washington’s Alternate Site. He started the season at High-A and from the get-go, opposing batters had trouble making contact. Across his first two starts, he threw ten shutout innings, while striking out 15.

Thanks to his heater that tops out at 103 mph and his curve that has impressive depth, his opponents were always caught off guard. Sadly, Cavalli struggles with command problems from time to time, which started to doom him later on in the season. He posted a 1.77 ERA, with 71 strikeouts at A+ before being promoted to AA in June.

After only walking 12 batters at A+, he walked 35 batters in 58 innings. Opponents started to lay off pitches that worked well in the lower level and Cavalli found himself in more and more jams. He posted a 2.79 ERA, with 80 strikeouts before being promoted to AAA in August.

There, opponents started to really lock onto his pitches, hitting .317 against him. Opponents had hit .171 and .188 against him at A+ and AA respectively. He finished AAA with a 7.30 ERA and 24 strikeouts while walking 12 in 24 2/3 innings. Despite his struggles at the end of the season, Cavalli finished the year as the Minor League strikeout leader (175) and has been nominated by MiLBY for Starting Pitcher of the Year.

Standing at 6’4 and weighing 230 pounds, the 23-year-old is seen by many as the organization’s next ace. Unless Cavalli makes some significant strides in the off-season regarding his command, expect the right to start next year at AAA before being called up.

Brady House

After drafting a pitcher in the first round five years in a row, Mike Rizzo bucked the trended and selected Brady House, a high school shortstop at number 11.  Projected to go in the top six, multiple teams decided to under slot, leading to the Nationals landing one of the biggest steals of the draft. From the second he arrived at Rookie Ball, House put on a show, showcasing his impressive power and bat-to-ball skills. In 16 games with the FCL Nationals, House hit .322, with four homers, 12 RBIs, and an OPS of .970.

Standing at six-foot-four and weighing 215 pounds, House is rather large for a shortstop, but he is adamant at staying at the position. He has the arm strength to play both short and third, where he might be better suited. With the FCL Nationals, he posted a .942 fielding percentage, committing four errors in 69 chances.

Only 18, expect House to start at either A or A+ next season. After his offensive onslaught at the Rookie League, the righty could fly through the system. With no need to rush his development, he is at least two years away.

Jackson Rutledge

Injuries derailed what was supposed to be a coming-out party for Washington’s 2019 first-round pick Jackson Rutledge. He ended the 2019 season at Single-A, posting a 2.30 ERA, with 31 strikeouts in 27 1/3 innings. Opponents hit a measly .151 against him, but he did walk 13 batters.

Due to the 2020 Minor League season being canceled, Rutledge spent that year at Washington’s Alternate Site. There he focused on attacking hitters and being more aggressive. Similar to Cavalli, he was one of the team’s standouts and many were anticipating him retaking the mound for the 2021 season. Sadly, 10 2/3 innings into this season, Rutledge landed on the IL. All year long be battled blisters and shoulder issues and while he did return to the mound, he was unable to rediscover his 2019 form.

Rutledge was one of the seven Nationals prospects named to the team’s Arizona Fall League roster. Unfortunately, his struggles have followed him. Despite this, it isn’t hard to understand why Washington is so enticed by the 22-year-old. He has a mid-nineties heater that touches 100, while his slider has become a solid secondary pitch. For now, he just needs to work on staying healthy and building up his strength. If he can stay on the mound, expect to see Rutledge called up as early as the end of next year.

Cole Henry

Similar to Rutledge, injuries derailed what had started as a promising season for Cole Henry, Washington’s 2020 second-round pick. The righty started the season at A+ and nerves took over in his Minor League debut, leading to him allowing four runs across five innings. But in his second start, he knew what to expect and threw six shutout innings, while striking out 10.

However, after five starts he was sidelined with an elbow issue and suffered a minor setback. Dating back to his college days, Henry was familiar with injuries and spent his rehab strengthening up his body and set his eyes on returning before the season ended. And that he did, only allowing four runs across his last six starts. Most notably, in his last three starts, he only allowed one run while striking out 22.

Alongside Rutledge, Henry was also named to the team’s Fall League roster where he has struck out 10 and allowed an unearned run. With his injury behind him, Henry can focus on improving his secondary pitches. Because he lacks the overwhelming power that Rutledge and Cavalli possess, he relies on his pitch selection. His pitching coach at A+ worked with him to further develop his out pitches so he can better put away opposing batters.

Expect Henry to start next season back at A+, but if he stays healthy and picks up where he left off, seeing Henry on the Nationals by 2023 isn’t out of the question.