Down on the Farm: One Nats Prospect at Each Level to Keep an Eye On

In my first blog diving into the farm system of the Washington Nationals this season, I chose to highlight one prospect at each level of the minors to keep an eye on moving forward, as these players are making some major strides in their quest to make the show.
Arguably the most underrated prospect in the system, Daylen Lile
Arguably the most underrated prospect in the system, Daylen Lile / Mark Cunningham/GettyImages

As the Washington Nationals continue to play an inconsistent brand of baseball, and some players in the current lineup continue to prove that they are not apart of the long-term future *cough* Joey Meneses *cough*, I got to thinking about some players down in the minor leagues who are making some major strides and trending towards the big league club.

I chose one player from each affiliate from AAA Rochester all the way down to rookie ball for Nats fans to keep an eye on, as some of these names might not be as far away from the majors as we thought when the season began.

While obviously the names of the future that everyone knows such as James Wood, Dylan Crews, and Brady House are all names to constantly watch out for, I wanted to bring attention to some names that Nats fan should soon be familiar with in the future. So without further ado, let's begin with our first player from this minor league report:

AAA Rochester Red Wings: LHP DJ Herz

This was written prior to Herz making his MLB debut last night, but safe to say he was the right pick.

DJ Herz was one of the main pieces acquired from the Chicago Cubs in the Jeimer Candelario deal last year. Herz is a 23-year-old lefty who features a fastball, curveball, slider, and changeup, and is currently ranked as the 12th best prospect in the Nats system.

Herz was a sleeper candidate to make the roster on Opening Day as a reliever in the bullpen, but the Nats wisely chose to let him continue to develop as a starter down in the minors. He has spent all season in AAA Rochester so far, and has accumulated a 3-2 record over 9 starts with a 3.75 ERA and 1.42 WHIP.

While he hasn't had an appearance longer than 5.1 innings in his last start, he is holding opposing hitters to just a .177 batting average, and has showcased his stuff recently, with his latest appearance resulting in 10 K's in the aforementioned 5.1 innings. Herz is trending upwards currently and is potentially a candidate to appear in the majors later this season if he keeps this up.

We will see how long Herz stays in the rotation, but there was some good in his first start despite taking the loss against the Mets.

AA Harrisburg Senators: OF Andrew Pinckney

Moving down to AA Harrisburg, I wanted to bring some much needed attention to a very underrated outfield prospect in Andrew Pinckney. In a lineup that features Dylan Crews, Brady House, and Robert Hassell III among others, it is Pinckney who is flying under the radar to most Nats fans who don't keep up with the farm as closely.

A 4th-round pick in 2023 out of Alabama, the 23-year-old Pinckney has showcased a true 5-tool skillset so far in his minor league career, and hit very well last year across 4 levels in the system before spending all of this season so far in AA. He has carried this momentum into 2024, and has a slash line of .285/.333/.403, good for a .736 OPS to go along with 4 homers, 23 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases as well.

As I mentioned before, Pinckney, the 17th ranked prospect in the system, is flying under the radar, but him continuing to showcase a 5-tool skillset will not go unnoticed by evaluators in the organization, and there's a chance he could make the majors at some point next season. While he needs to cut down on the strikeouts and walk more, as his 52:10 K:BB ratio suggests, his overall approach to the game and maturity due to being drafted out of college should continue to bring him more success this season and beyond.

High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks: OF Daylen Lile

Moving on down to High-A Wilmington, I wanted to bring attention to another outfielder in the Nats system who is gaining more attention both within the organization and minor league baseball fans in Daylen Lile. The 21-year-old outfielder and 2nd-round pick by the Nats in 2021 is progressing very well through the minor leagues so far, and has been the most underrated prospect in the system for over a year in my opinion.

Coming into this season as the 7th ranked prospect in the system, Lile is making a legitimate case to be considered a Top 5 prospect when the rankings are updated in a couple of months. So far in 2024, Lile has a batting line of .291/.372/.455, good for an .827 OPS to go along with 3 homers, 19 RBIs, and 12 stolen bases.

Similar to Pinckney, Lile has showcased a true 5-tool skillset so far, which is something that Mike Rizzo covets in many of his prospects. His overall approach at the plate has been very solid as well, with a 26:17 K:BB ratio so far this season helping him to see success in a typical hitters nightmare down in Wilmington. If Lile continues at this pace, the Nats will have no choice but to find room for him in what figures to be a crowded outfield of the future, and I could see him breaking into the show as soon as sometime next season.

Low-A Fredericksburg Nationals: RHP Travis Sykora

Checking in with our last affiliate above rookie ball, I wanted to bring attention to RHP Travis Sykora, currently the 11th ranked prospect in the system. The 3rd-round selection of the Nats in the 2023 draft, the 20-year-old 6'6" righty is just getting started down in the minors.

After not appearing in a game following the draft last year, the main approach with Sykora right now is just to get him used to facing professional hitting. The more exposure and live reps he faces early on in his professional career, the better he will be because of it. With an overall pitching line of 0-2 with a 4.32 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, Sykora has a long way to go before he will be ready for the majors, but he has been fun to watch already.

However, as I mentioned before, it is important to watch his progression throughout the rest of this season and going into next season, as even in his 5 starts this season he has showcased his gigantic upside already. In his last appearance alone he struck out 7 hitters over just 4 innings while allowing just one hit, showcasing his 70-grade fastball on numerous occasions. His development is one of the most important in the system, and he will likely be on track to reach the show in hopefully a few short years.

FCL & DCL Nationals: OF Victor Hurtado

Blame Juan Soto, but boy do I hope the Nats can develop this sweet-swinging lefty. The prize of the Nats' most recent international free agency class, 17-year-old Victor Hurtado out of the Dominican Republic is a name to keep an eye on for much later down the line. He stands at 6'3" and 175 pounds already, and should continue to grow into his body.

He profiles as a true 5-tool outfielder with a great left-handed swing that looks to lift the ball rather than hit groundballs. In other words, please don't let Darnell Coles anywhere near this kid. He just turned 17 on May 24th, and he has yet to make his pro debut as the Dominican Summer League season hasn't begun yet. While obviously he has a very long way to go, his progress will be important to monitor, as hopefully he will be able to get off to a better start than Cristhian Vaquero has gotten off to so far in his professional career.

Which of these players are you going to be keeping an eye on this season? What Nats prospects did I not name that you think deserve some more attention? As always, please let me know your thoughts on X by tweeting me @DCBerk.

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