For the 2022 season, Washington is entering the first full year of their rebuild. The focus of the season will be on the development of the young core. Outside of Juan Soto and Josh Bell, the majority of the roster still needs to prove themselves. The majority of their young players will be entering the first full seasons of their careers and will have the opportunity to make themselves known.
Here are three breakout candidates to keep an eye on.
The prize of the Max Scherzer/Trea Turner trade, Ruiz projects to be the Nationals catcher of the future. At the time of the trade, he was Baseball America’s 16th ranked prospect in baseball. Washington started Ruiz off at AAA, where he hit .308, with five RBIs, and an OPS of .942 in 20 games.
In 23 games with the Nationals to end the season, he slashed .284/.348/.395, with two homers, 14 RBIs, and an OPS of .743. He showed a glimpse of his impressive plate discipline, walking more than he struck out (6 walks, 4 Ks). It may have been a small sample size, but Ruiz flashed his exceptional hit tool and never seemed overwhelmed at the plate.
Thanks to his patience at the plate and defensive skills, Ruiz is primed to build upon his successful 2021 campaign.
The other key piece acquired in the Max Scherzer/Trea Turner blockbuster, Gray is seen as the part of the future of the Nationals rotation.
In 12 starts with the Nats, Gray went 2-2, with a 5.31 ERA, 63 strikeouts, and a 5.71 FIP. Despite his lackluster stats, Gray showed a glimpse of what he could be. At times his secondary pitches were crisp and he was able to attack the strike zone with ease, but he was also prone to the long ball, allowing 15 homers.
Gray’s success will stem from the development of his out pitches. His heater ranges in the mid-90s and he needs his secondary pitches to help complement the rest of his arsenal. Gray also needs to keep the ball in the park more and continue to improve his command.
Entering his first full season in the rotation, he has the chance to become the team’s third starter.
Making his MLB debut in 2020, García impressed in a small sample size. In 40 games, he hit .276, with two homers, 16 RBIs, and an OPS of .668. While he lacked power, García flashed a patient approach at the plate.
Last year he struggled at times, hitting .242, with six homers, 22 RBIs, and an OPS of .686 in 236 at-bats. But during the last month of the season, García hit .271, with three homers, 14 RBIs, and an OPS of .768.
García will need to prove he can continue to consistently get on base and that his late-season success wasn’t a fluke. García struggled early on from constantly being thrust in and out of the lineup, which led to him taking longer to adjust at the plate. But once he was finally locked in, he showed an uptick in power.
He also made strides defensively, posting two DRS at second compared to -4 in 2020.