2024. That’s the year Mike Rizzo expects his team to return to contention. It also happens to be the last season of arbitration for Juan Soto.
Recently, most rebuilds take on average four-five years, with the White Sox, Athletics, and Braves coming to mind. Some teams including the Pirates and Orioles take longer, but the Nationals have already proven in the past they can pull off a faster turnaround.
Rizzo became the Nationals GM in 2009 and three seasons later they won a whopping 98 games. Now, Washington is entering the first full season of their rebuild and already are in better shape than they were in 2009. Soto is one of the best hitters on the planet and the face of the franchise. It also helps that multiple of the prospects they acquired in 2021 their firesale has already reached the majors, including Keibert Ruiz, Lane Thomas, Riley Adams, Josiah Gray, and Mason Thompson.
Each of them showed flashes, but Ruiz, in particular, stood out. Called up by the Nats at the end of August, he slashed .284/.348/.395, with two homers, 14 RBIs, and an OPS of .743 in 23 games. He also walked more (6) than he struck out (4).
The 11th ranked prospect in MLB per Baseball America, the Nationals rebuild hinges on Ruiz matching expectations.
It was widely assumed at last year’s deadline the Nationals would ship out franchise icon Max Scherzer, but it came as a surprise when Trea Turner was also included. Adding Turner to the Scherzer deal allowed the Nationals to add two top 100 prospects in Ruiz and Gray.
Many were upset to see Turner ago, especially since he was slashing .322/.369/.521 and had a year and a half left on his contract.
At the time of the trade, Ruiz was touted for his advanced knowledge of the strike zone and his insane ability to make contact. He showed this in the minors, striking out 34 times while drawing 32 walks, in 322 games at AAA. Not known for his power, he has displayed he could hit 20+ homers a year in his peak.
Top prospects Cole Henry, Jackson Rutledge, Andry Lara, and Brady House are all at least 2-3 seasons away, while Cade Cavalli still needs some seasoning at AAA. All of them are viewed as the future of the Nationals, but none of them are as important to the rebuild as Ruiz.
For one, they were all drafted/signed while the Nationals traded away a top-five shortstop to acquire their future backstop.
Ever since Wilson Ramos left in free agency after 2016, catcher has been a vital weakness for Washington. In his seven seasons with the Nationals, Ramos posted 10.5 bWAR. After he left, Matt Wieters, Pedro Severino, Spencer Kieboom, Yan Gomes, and Kurt Suzuki combined for 5 bWAR.
Defensively, Ruiz is lauded for his framing, a skill that will become vital once flamethrowers Cavalli and Rutledge are promoted to the majors. It also helps that he has an established rapport with Gray, another crucial piece of the rebuild.
Due to what the Nationals gave up, and his immense potential, Washington’s rebuild cannot afford for Ruiz to falter.