Lara has work to do to get strikeout numbers back up


Age on opening day 2024: 21

How acquired: Signed as international free agent, July 2019

Ranking: No. 23 per MLB Pipeline, No. 18 per Baseball America

MLB ETA: 2025
* Projected by MLB Pipeline

Signing bonus: $1.25 million

2023 levels: High-A Wilmington

2023 stats: 6-8, 4.58 ERA, 23 G, 23 GS, 98 ⅓ IP, 90 H, 58 R, 50 ER, 11 HR, 34 BB, 66 SO, 6 HBP, 1.261 WHIP

Quotable: “He was commanding his fastball No. 1. That’s what we want from our pitchers to be able to command his fastball and locate it on both sides of the plate. Pitch inside. That’s what we try to do as an organization: Make sure we can command our fastball and pitch inside. He did that. And then his secondary stuff, it was working for him. He was able to locate, his tempo was great, his holding runners was great. That’s what we’re trying to do and him continuing to do that. Obviously, it’s ups and down throughout the season. The idea is that those downs are really short and we can stay up as much as we can.” – Wilmington manager Mario Lisson after Lara’s first start of the season

2023 analysis: Being among the group of young players who began their professional careers right before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lara has been working behind schedule ever since the Nationals signed him out of Venezuela as a 16-year-old in 2019.

Even so, the right-hander has been one of the more promising young arms in the Nats system ever since he inked his $1.25 million signing bonus.

Lara spent the canceled 2020 season at the team’s facility in Florida before splitting time in 2021 between the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and Single-A Fredericksburg. He then spent all of the 2022 season with the FredNats, and although he posted a 5.51 ERA and 1.451 WHIP, he also struck out 105 in 101 ⅓ innings over his 23 starts.

A strong finish to 2022, which included an improved 3.89 ERA over his last seven starts, earned him a bump to Wilmington to start this season, where he spent the entirety of the campaign.

Although his 6-8 record, 4.58 ERA and 1.261 WHIP were improvements over the year, his strikeout numbers were down across the board. He only fanned 66 this season, with his strikeout-to-walk rate falling from 2.39 to 1.94 and his strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate taking a big hit from 9.3 to 6.0.

There was neither an injury list nor a development list stint for Lara this season. He made 23 starts, the same as 2022, and pitched 98 ⅓ innings, only three less than 2022, so there doesn’t seem to be an ailment or mechanical issue affecting his performance.

2024 outlook: Lara is one of the handful of Nats prospects eligible for next month’s Rule 5 draft. But he was not among the four pitchers the organization protected by selecting to the 40-man roster last week, leaving him vulnerable to being taken by another team.

His fastball is rated as slightly above average and more often clocked in the low-90s with the occasional mid-90s showing up on the radar gun. As he continues to develop and mature, his 6-foot-4 frame should allow him to gain more velocity on his heater.

However, Lara’s secondary pitches need a lot more work. His slider is said to have a slurvy shape to it while sitting in the upper 80s. And his below-average changeup lacks consistency with such a low velocity that makes it easily distinguishable from his fastball.

The Nationals are hoping no one takes a flier out on a 20-year-old pitcher who struggled at High-A in the Rule 5 draft. If a team does, they would have to keep Lara on their roster for the entire 2024 season.

If he does indeed stay in the Nats system, Lara has work to do to increase his velocity, improve his secondary stuff and command, and rack up more strikeouts to get back to having major league potential.

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