Sunny skies, back field intrasquad games, ground ball drills. Spring Training is here. With the rebuild in full swing the focus is on the young guys and prospects, or... the future.
Perhaps the most impressive minor league player in the system last season was Jake Alu. The left-handed hitting third baseman was one of six prospects added to the 40-man roster in December after he posted an organization best 131 wRC+ (100 is league average) in 132 games across Double-A and Triple-A in 2022. Despite Alu's success, the Nationals signed free agent Jeimer Candelario over the offseason to man third base.
For Alu, 2023 brings on a world of possibilities. Candelario could be traded at the deadline allowing either Alu or, former first-rounder, Carter Kieboom to take over. Alu could also make the club out of Spring Training as a bench bat due to his positional versatility around the diamond. Or neither happen, and Alu spends another year in Triple-A. Anything can happen, but realistically the odds that Jake Alu makes his major league debut this season are very high.
Another recent addition to the 40-man roster and a lesser-known name in the system is Jake Irvin. Irvin is a 26-year-old right-handed pitcher with a solid four-pitch mix and a career 3.64 ERA in 252.1 minor league innings.
While Irvin will most likely start the 2023 season in the Triple-A starting rotation, the 6-foot-6 hurler is primed to make an appearance with the big-league team at some point this year. The 2018 fourth rounder was recently ranked 11th in the Nationals system by Keith Law with The Athletic, saying he has "a bullpen future".
Cavalli, the No. 58 prospect in MLB according to MLB Pipeline, is fighting for a spot in the Opening Day rotation, and all signs point to him making the squad. Pineda has found himself third in the organization on the catcher depth chart behind Keibert Ruiz and Riley Adams, meaning he will start the season as Triple-A Rochester's starting backstop, but he could be called-up at a moment's notice.
Lee's road back to the major leagues is a little more complicated. The southpaw was placed on the injured list in August 2022 after making four major league appearances, then in the offseason he was designated for assignment. Since Lee was not claimed by another team, he was removed from the 40-man roster and assigned to Triple-A.
Since Lee is a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, he will see game time in the coming March schedule. With Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Rainey both expected to hit the 60-day IL on Opening Day (opening up their spots on the 40-man), Lee is an arm to watch. His projection is that of an off-speed heavy lefty out of the bullpen but has experience as a starter.
Another top prospect included on the non-roster invitee list in Zach Brzykcy. Brzykcy is a right-handed pitcher who sits mid-90's with a very effective high-spin fastball. After his meteoric rise in 2022, the 2020 undrafted free agent signee is a candidate to see the big leagues this season with a real chance to be a contributor down the road.
This group of prospects are on the cusp of being role players for the Washington Nationals and they have a chance to prove themself over the next month and a half. There are a handful of other top prospects at major league Spring Training, like Jackson Rutledge and Jeremy De La Rosa, that are not quite ready for the show. Look out for the major-league-ready young guys hoping to turn heads in the upcoming 29 Spring Training games.