Things are different in NatsTown these days. Gone are the days of having three future Hall of Famers and being mentioned next to almost every big free agent. Now the Washington Nationals and their fans must look forward and believe it or not the future may be just as bright or brighter than the past.
There are four key things that Nats fans should keep an eye on going forward.
The Return To an Elite Rotation?
Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, and Josiah Gray are beginning to look like the trio that will lead us into our next competitive window. Gray has already shown that he has the stuff to be a successful starter in the big leagues. The overall numbers left some things to be desired, but he showed promise in his first sustained time with the Nationals. Out of the 14 games he appeared in with the Nationals he had a K rate above 9 which is a good sign and he also showed that he can work through some issues throughout a game. The biggest concern with Gray comes down to him giving up too many home runs, if he can fix that he will be an important part of the Nationals rotation.
Cavalli spent the majority of 2021 dominating in the minor leagues until he ran into his first issues in Rochester. This could be attributed to Cavalli pitching the most innings in his career and running out of gas toward the end of the year. He’s got some of the best stuff in the minors and struck out batters at a very impressive rate. If I had to pick one of these three to be the “ace” it would be Cavalli. All he needs to do is stay healthy and bring that walk rate down.
Cole Henry has recently jumped over Jackson Rutledge to be the third name on this list. This is not really a surprise though, Henry was the Friday night pitcher for LSU and was paid over slot after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2020. He spent some time this year recovering from an injury, after he returned he went on to strike out 14 per 9 and have a 1.88 ERA with the Blue Rocks. The success has continued so far in the Arizona Fall League. He leads the AFL in strikeouts and is second in ERA. I expect him to land in AA to start 2022 and if this continues he will not be there long.
Jackson Rutledge and Andry Lara are players that could easily step up to be a part of this resurgence as well. Lara is still a teenager but he has stuff that plays well above his age. Rutledge just needs to stay healthy and pitch consistently, if he is unable to do that I could certainly see him being a closer in the future because his stuff is elite.
The Nationals still have Strasburg and Corbin who could play a huge part in the future if they could just get back to a little of their past success. Nats fans need to keep an eye on these pitchers in 2022 because pitching will not be an eyesore in D.C. for very long.
I doubt I need to say much here. Players like Juan do not come around often. Enjoy it, there is a chance he may be gone in the future. That chance doesn’t just come down to Juan wanting to be here, the Lerners not spending enough, Soto loving NY or LA, or Boras being Boras.
It is a combination of all those things that have to go the Nationals way and that is why stars continue to leave their first team at an alarming rate in baseball the last 20 years. Enjoy this time, even if he does sign an extension, an all-time great like him won’t be around forever.
Juan Soto is still younger than a lot of the top 100 prospects in baseball and he will be getting his third top 10 MVP finish and he already has a ring. Since his debut, Soto is in the top 10 of almost every statistical category, top 5 in plenty, and just behind Mike Trout in some. Nationals fans are beyond lucky to be able to watch him play every day.
An Injection of Youth
It has been a very long time since the Nationals had so many promising young stars boiling up in the minors. A good chunk of them spent the last month of the season showing exactly why many are so excited about them.
Even after House, Cruz, De La Rosa, Lara, Ramirez, and White the promising young talent is going to just keep being added. The Nationals are going to add a top 5 draft pick, at least one top 6 international prospect, and possibly two in Cristian Vaquero and Anthony Guttierez, and then whatever else may come out of this upcoming draft. A lot of them may end up being role players but House, Vaquero, Cruz, and Lara could certainly be stars. We should all be very excited to see what happens with these young players.
A lot of what made 2019 so special was the struggle that happened along the way. Multiple times the 100 loss seasons were mentioned (obviously don’t want to go back to that) the times the Nationals lost in the first round and the disappointment that came from that made 2019 all the more special.
Those years before 2019 were filled with a lot of great memories and stories. I think this build will be much shorter but similar in the way that we will fondly remember seeing players like Cade Cavalli, Keibert Ruiz, and Brady House grow as Nationals.
Along with those young players, there will of course be free-agent additions as well as potential changes within the organization. This is going to take some time but the Nationals are in a good place and have been a good organization for over a decade now, this build is going to be something to keep an eye on.