Given the current state of the Washington Nationals, development is the most important factor for players in D.C. Wins and losses will not be the best evaluator of the 2023 team. Establishing the players who are key to the future in Washington is the task at hand for Mike Rizzo. Expectations are one thing for players but living up to those high hopes is another. The Nationals have guys who I expect to break out this season and others that will take a step back into reality. Let's find out my predictions for the 2023 season.
Progression: Keibert Ruiz
I'm extremely high on Keibert Ruiz. Why? Not only because I was a catcher in high school, but because it's easy to see Ruiz is a really good catcher. I believe he has All-star potential in him. What he needs to add to his arsenal is power. Ruiz hit 21 home runs in his 2021 minor league season in AAA, so he has the power in the tank. He is a bit swingy at the plate, meaning he needs to be more patient and take his walks. Ruiz struck out 7.8 percent of the time, according to baseballreference.com, an outstanding rate for a 23-year old backstop. Keibert was on point defensively, throwing out 20 runners and converting four pick-off attempts.
Here are my predictions for Keibert's 2023 season. 120 games, .273 average, 14 home runs and 53 runs batted in. I truly believe Ruiz is going to take the next step this season and mold into the All-star catcher he can be. The Nationals should be set at catcher for years to come.
Regression: Joey Meneses
Regress is a tough word to use with Joey. I think a better phrase for Meneses is, "come back to earth." Joey was so outstanding in his rookie season in D.C. and it would be nearly impossible for him to stay at that pace. Teams will adjust to his strengths and adapt to his hot zones at the plate. I put Joey in this category simply due to him being so great last season.
My projections for Meneses in 2023: 130 G, .258 avg 14 home runs and 55 runs batted in. I think this is a realistic statline for Joey next season. I will gladly eat my words if Meneses builds on his success last season.
Progression: Josiah Gray
The 2022 season was the worst case scenario for Josiah Gray and Nats' fans. Gray was tied for the major league lead in home runs allowed at 38. To add some salt on that wound, Josiah only started 24 games and allowed that many bombs. His fastball is straight as an arrow and hitters tee off on it. His slider is top notch and his curve and changeup are sufficient but he needs to add a sinker to his arsenal. It would give hitters a different look other than the 4-seam fastball.
2023 is an important season for development, with most the pressure possibly on Josiah Gray. If he does not take a step forward, the Nationals could have a bit of a problem. My 2023 projections for Gray are 30 GS, 12-10 record and 4.15 ERA, 185 innings, 195 K and 80 BB and 25 home runs allowed. I think Josiah is going to figure it out this offseason. He had stretches of starts last year where he looked like an ace, and I believe he is going to show some more of that potential this season.
Regression: Hunter Harvey
Harvey falls into sort of the same category as Meneses. Hunter threw 39.1 of his 63 career innings pitched last season. He posted a 2.52 ERA in 38 appearances and struck out 45 batters and walked just 12. The 27-year old can never stay healthy and it's the reason he's thrown so little innings in the majors. Harvey was exceptional out of the bullpen for the Nationals in 2022 and repeating that same success is a tough assignment.
My projections for Harvey's 2023 season: 43 appearances, 45 innings pitched, 3.56 ERA 53 strikeouts and 23 walks. This would still be a really productive season for Harvey. I think he could be a piece of the future in the bullpen due to his low amount of service time in the majors, giving the Nationals team control of Harvey for years to come.
Progression: CJ Abrams
Nationals fans felt the excitement that CJ brought to the field last season. Defensive plays and speed on the base paths were Abrams' specialties in 2022. Expect the young stud to bring a bit more to the party in 2023. I don't think CJ will be a 20 home run guy next season, but I expect him to provide more power than he did in his first season in Washington. I would consider last year a "test run" for CJ, just getting his feet wet in the majors. With an offseason of preparation as the starting shortstop in D.C. I am anticipating a jump in Abrams' presence in the lineup.
My projections for CJ in 2023: 145 G, .276 avg 6 home runs, 44 runs batted in and 23 steals. I would be disappointed if Davey Martinez doesn't give Abrams the green light each time he steps on the bases. It would add an entire aspect to the lineup if teams were threatened by his presence on the base paths.