Get ready for the 2024 Nationals, everybody. They're a lot like the 2023 Nationals. So far this offseason, the team has added four new faces to the Major League team, while only a single full-season regular from the 2023 team has departed in Dominic Smith. That means a lot of the same ol' Nats will be trying to improve on last year's record, while the organization and fans alike await reinforcements from the improved farm system.
The aforementioned newcomers to the Nationals are uninspiring. Joey Gallo, Nick Senzel, and Dylan Floro are each on cheap 1-year pacts to play stopgap roles while Rule 5 Draft selection Nasim
Nuñez has joined the club and will jump from AA to MLB as a bench infielder. Those players, and any other potential last minute free agent additions the Nationals make, will likely be the only new faces in the clubhouse on Opening Day, but they certainly are not the most exciting players that will arrive in DC this summer.
Let's review the minor league players who are most likely to make their MLB debuts this season. To answer this simply, I've looked at FanGraphs' Depth Charts, which roughly predicts playing time for the upcoming season. It is an imperfect estimation, but gives us an idea of the guys who are in line for playing time. There are 9 pre-debut players listed there, which would be 1 fewer MLB debut than the 2023 Nats had.
Here are the names for 2024: position players Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House, and Nasim Nuñez, and pitchers Mitchell Parker, DJ Herz, Zach Brzycky, Tim Cate, and Holden Powell. This list does not include a sizeable bunch of rookie-eligible and sophomore players with little MLB experience. Returning players include Drew Millas, Jacob Young, Jake Alu, Jake Irvin, Joan Adon, Amos Willingham, Jackson Rutledge, Joe La Sorsa, Robert Garcia, and Jose A. Ferrer, all of which enter 2024 with less than 1 year of service time and varying expectations of MLB playing time.
That's quite the list of young talent supporting an already youthful Major League squad. The highlights here are clear. Crews and Wood are both consensus top-15 prospects in baseball, both ended 2023 in AA, and both are nearly ready to be tested against big-league pitching. Both are knocking on the door and are expected to get their first chances by August or September at the latest. Fellow top prospect Brady House is a bit younger, but he also made it to AA last year and performed well all season. FanGraphs predicts 70 games for Crews, 15 for Wood and 11 for House. All have recently received invites to major league camp, and the organization's future lies in their potential to become franchise cornerstones.
On the pitching side, a few notable names should introduce themselves to Nats fans this year. DJ Herz was acquired from the Cubs in the Jeimer Candelario deal; the 23-year-old lefty struck out over a dozen per 9 while starting in AA last year. Mitchell Parker, 24, threw 124 solid innings in AA and AAA last season over 26 starts. Herz and Parker are currently competing for the 7th and 8th spots on the Nationals starting depth chart, alongside Cade Cavalli returning from injury and Joan Adon. If even a few minor injuries to the current rotation occur, or if players like Patrick Corbin, Trevor Williams, and Jake Irvin don't perform, all of those players should get their shot this season.
Tim Cate and Holden Powell are depth relief options, and could easily be surpassed by any of several arms that could impress in spring training and during the season. There is plenty of relief work to be had in Washington, with only a couple names locked in to their spots in the bullpen, two of whom with extensive injury histories in Hunter Harvey and Tanner Rainey. Last year saw the arrival of Jose A. Ferrer and someone should similarly emerge as a middle relief option this season.
There are a couple notable exclusions from this discussion so far, namely Darren Baker and Trey Lipscomb, whose paths to the majors are currently blocked by Carter Kieboom, Nasim Nuñez and Ildemaro Vargas, as well as Cole Henry, an oft-injured 2nd round pick who is already on the 40-man roster along with Herz and Parker. Prospects Robert Hassell III and Jeremy De La Rosa are firmly behind Wood and Crews in the line for 40-man spots, and don't figure into a crowded outfield this season. That being said, injuries and midseason trades can always open up the depth chart to varying degrees and there's a good chance that a few names not on this list pop up and surprise us this year, much like Jacob Young, who began 2023 in High-A, came out of nowhere to make his Major League debut in September.
The Nationals current rebuild effort will largely be defined by Dylan Crews, James Wood, and Brady House. Nats fans have known this for a while now, and everyday we inch closer to their arrivals. The team has spent the past few seasons, and will spend this season, searching for young players good enough to stick around for the next competitive Nationals team. The focus this season will be on the progress of the team's top prospects and the top young players that are forming the core of the franchise going forward.