Rundown of top prospects with De Jon Watson

The All-Star break, for better or worse, is all about the future of the Nationals. Juan Soto’s potentially dwindling future with the organization. Elijah Green and all the other 2022 draft picks’ potential future with the organization.

These are franchise-altering days, developments that could determine whether this team has a chance to be a winner again in the near-term or not for many more years to come.

But those guys alone aren’t going to decide the outcome. They’re going to need others to surround them, especially younger players who come up through a revamped farm system.

So it’s also a good time to take stock of that farm system, one that still ranks near the bottom in baseball according to most publications that produce such rankings but undoubtedly is home to a handful of potential high-end building blocks who could make a difference, some sooner than others.

De Jon Watson, in his first year as the Nationals’ director of player development, recently met with beat writers to provide insight into many of the organization’s top prospects. Here’s what he had to say about them, along with a midseason update on each …

CADE CAVALLI
Update: The 2020 first-round pick had an up-and-down first half at Triple-A Rochester (he’s 4-3 with a 4.31 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 15 starts, but he’s been on a roll lately. Over his last eight starts, he’s 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.) Cavalli had to depart his most recent outing, though, with torn skin on his pitching finger, and that prevented him from appearing in the All-Star Futures Game, though Watson said he’s expected to be ready to pitch again within the next week.

Watson’s take: “I think the biggest thing is really get him to control his delivery. He started to create a little separation from his fastball, his curveball and slider and really using his changeup a lot more, so understanding what he’s seeing. I think his pregame preparation, all those things have advanced and grown. So he’s on the right track. I think (Rochester pitching coach) Rafael Chaves is doing a good job of kind of leading him to the things that he needs, and that he’s short. And so I think we’re closing those gaps quickly.”

COLE HENRY
Update: The 2020 second-round pick dominated at Double-A Harrisburg (0.76 ERA, 0.59 WHIP) in seven starts before getting promoted to Triple-A. He made only two starts for Rochester (4.50 ERA, 1.38 WHIP) before being shut down with a sore shoulder. He’s currently rehabbing in West Palm Beach.

Watson’s take: “It was a little tight, but no structural damage. Getting him back in the throwing program, getting him back on the mound, hopefully getting him back on the team is the primary goal, and we hope that will happen for him in the next, I would say, three weeks if not sooner. … He was making tremendous strides. He ran through Double-A, got to Triple-A, it was the first time he really, hitters have actually put hands on him, kind of hit him a little bit. So it was an adjustment period. So now it’s about: ‘How do I build my game strategy against the hitters that I’m facing?’ And I think we have the right people in place to help him understand how to utilize his mix.”

BRADY HOUSE
Update: The 2021 first-round pick was off to a solid start with low Single-A Fredericksburg (.278/.356/.375, eight doubles, three homers, 31 RBIs in 45 games) before landing on the IL with a lower back injury in mid-June. He continues to rehab in West Palm Beach.

Watson’s take: “He’s been doing great. I think right now, kind of going through this lower back stuff and trying to work through that, it’s just trying for him. But literally I talked to him today. He’s doing good. He’s in a good place. He’s working his tail off, trying to strengthen that core to make sure we can get it back on the field as soon as we can. But I think he's in a good place overall. Thought he came out the chutes blazing. At one point, I want to say it was in May, he saw more breaking balls than any player in Minor League Baseball. So it was a big adjustment period for him in there. So I got our hitting coordinator in, we kind of went through some drills series to try and get him more accustomed to figure out which breaking balls to swing at, which ones to take. So even though it’s been shortened, I think he’s learned a ton in this first year.”

MASON DENABURG
Update: The 2018 first-round pick has had a slow, difficult road to date as a professional, beset by injuries. But he’s healthy now and pitching for Single-A Fredericksburg, where he’s got a 3.94 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in nine starts.

Watson’s take: “He was out there walking them, so we had a nice little conversation about those walks. If you look at his last four (starts), all the walks have gone down. Again, it’s about the focus and the mindset of being a front-of-the-rotation starter, and these young guys are gonna be those types of starters for us, but it has to start right now. We have to start building that mindset, what our expectations are for them, and to that standpoint I think they’re getting it.”

JACKSON RUTLEDGE
Update: The 2019 first-round pick has had a tough go of it at Fredericksburg, going 3-5 with a 6.08 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 12 starts to date. But the path to get there has been very up and down. In six of those 12 starts, he’s allowed two or fewer runs. In five of them, he’s allowed five or more earned runs.

Watson’s take: “He’s had four good ones out of his last six. Of those four, the walks were down. When the walks are down and he’s attacking the strike zone with his weapons in the proper sequence, we’re seeing some positive results.”

CRISTHIAN VAQUERO
Update: The top international signee from last winner, Vaquero is being touted as an incredibly athletic, switch-hitting center fielder who could blossom into a star. He’s spending his first professional season at the Nationals’ academy in the Dominican Republic but is expected to come to the United States next season and begin climbing up the organizational ladder.

Watson’s take: “I can’t wait to get him stateside so we can get some more weight on him, get him in the weight room, build up his body. Lean, wiry, running 4.15 (seconds) down the line, aggressive on the bases, slashy swing. Right now, the left is a little bit ahead of the right, but it looks good. I like how he’s playing. And he plays fast and he plays hard with some passion.”

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