Happy Thanksgiving, Nationals fans!
To celebrate the holiday, I’m going to take a break from my usual prospect reviews (there are only seven left!) and look back on the 2023 year for reasons the Nats and you should be thankful.
Is a 71-91 season reason to celebrate? Of course not. But the organization did make some significant strides in this crucial rebuilding year.
Let’s start with that final record. Although still 20 games under .500, it was a 16-game improvement from the dreadful 55-107 record in 2022.
While still a last-place finish, their fourth in a row since winning the 2019 World Series, many outlets had the Nats barely winning 60 games at the beginning of the season. Eclipsing 70 wins was a major step forward for the major league club, setting up higher expectations for 2024.
How did they do it?
The growth of CJ Abrams, Lane Thomas and Keibert Ruiz helped solidify themselves as the young core moving forward. And even though he didn’t hit much for power, Joey Meneses was one of the most clutch hitters in the majors this year when it came to hitting with runners in scoring position.
Josiah Gray was selected to his first All-Star Game with a dominant first half and finished the season healthy. MacKenzie Gore flashed ace-like stuff while Jake Irvin was a pleasant surprise to the rotation.
The back end of the bullpen was anchored by Mason Thompson, Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan, who should look forward to adding a healthy Tanner Rainey next year.
They were the main cast of characters this year led by general manager Mike Rizzo and manager Davey Martinez, both of whom were signed to contract extensions before the season was over. That duo will get to see this rebuild to its end and possibly beyond.
The Nationals also saw some unexpectedly impressive performances from a handful of rookies outside of Irvin. Jake Alu flashed his versatility and impressive batter’s eye. Jacob Young made highlight plays in the outfield while showing his speed on the basepaths. Jackson Rutledge had moments of dominance in a handful of starts down the stretch. And Jose A. Ferrer was at times electric as a left-hander out of the bullpen.
Down on the farm, the Nats have even more reasons to be thankful and hopeful for the future.
James Wood proved to be one of the top prospects in all of baseball with incredible power at the plate and athleticism in the field. Brady House returned healthy and maybe had the best overall season of any Nats prospect, advancing all the way to Double-A. And Trey Lipscomb emerged as an under-the-radar candidate with his versatility en route to being named the Nats’ minor league Defensive Player of the Year and winning the minor league Gold Glove Award at third base.
Through the draft, the Nats added another top prospect in the sport with No. 2 overall pick Dylan Crews. The Golden Spikes Award winner out of LSU advanced all the way to Double-A Harrisburg in his first few months of professional baseball, joining Wood, House, Robert Hassell III and Lipscomb with the Senators.
And Crews wasn’t the only draft pick of this class to reach Harrisburg. Joining him were fellow 2023 picks Yohandy Morales and Andrew Pinckney, meaning three of the Nats’ first four picks were playing Double-A ball by season’s end.
Although some fans may have wanted the Nats to be more active at the trade deadline, they should be excited about the two prospects they did acquire. In a deal with the Cubs that sent Jeimer Candelario to Chicago, the Nats received left-hander DJ Herz and infielder Kevin Made in return.
Herz flashed impressive stuff at Harrisburg and then at the Arizona Fall League to put him on track to possibly make his major league debut next year. Made still has a ways to go at the plate, but his impressive defensive prowess brings a lot of value up the middle of the field.
In the front office, the Nationals hired Danny Haas, Brad Ciolek and Reed Dunn to help run amateur scouting in preparation for the draft. All three have experience in the selections of some of the more recent top prospects across the sport.
The Nationals also promoted local native and longtime front office member Eddie Longosz to the head of player development.
Outside the organization, Nats fans have even more reasons to be thankful.
No National League East rival made, nonetheless won, the World Series this year after the Braves won it in 2021 and the Phillies made it in 2022. Although, the Phils did get within one game of back-to-back NL pennants with that group of former Nationals …
I’m sure Nats fans are happy for Max Scherzer, who won another World Series with the Rangers. Maybe they’re also happy for former prospect Dane Dunning, who was included in the trade that acquired Adam Eaton. And a large group of fans are surely happy for McLean High School and University of Virginia product Josh Sborz, who recorded the championship-clinching out against the Diamondbacks.
Nats fans should also be thankful for the fact they won’t have to (again) go through what Athletics fans in Oakland are going through over the next calendar year as the team moves to Las Vegas.
No, the Nationals did not consider 2023 to be a successful year. But it sure was encouraging from a lot of different vantage points.
That’s enough to be thankful for on this special holiday. Hopefully, there will be even more reason to be thankful next year.