Organizational prospect rankings are by nature ever-changing. Top prospects reach the big leagues and watch their careers take off. New draft picks join the list and leapfrog other established players. Some once-touted prospects lose their steam and disappear off the radar.
But it’s notable how much the Nationals’ prospect rankings have changed in the last two years, growing from one of the least-touted groups in baseball to one that is now turning a whole lot of heads.
And it’s not necessarily all the same names everyone assumed would top the list not that long ago.
Baseball America unveiled its 2024 Top 10 ranking Monday, and while most of the names include on the list come as no surprise, the order they are listed does include a few surprises.
Headlining the group is the newest member of the organization: Dylan Crews. As one would expect, the No. 2 overall pick in this summer’s draft immediately takes over as the No. 1 prospect in the Nationals organization. (He should be a top-10 prospect in the sport once that list is unveiled later this winter.)
The former LSU star outfielder enjoyed a strong professional debut, dominating at low Single-A Fredericksburg to earn a promotion all the way up to Double-A Harrisburg for the season’s final month. He struggled a bit after that final promotion, but nobody seems concerned in the least, recognizing it was a long season for the 21-year-old and it’s not so easy to dominate at that level of the minors only two months removed from the College World Series.
Crews supplanted James Wood as the Nats’ new No. 1 prospect, but that’s no knock on Wood (pun most definitely intended). The hulking 21-year-old outfielder enjoyed a fantastic season split between high Single-A Wilmington and Harrisburg, finishing with 28 homers (10 of those coming in August and September).
The only real criticism of Wood is his high strikeout rate (32 percent), but club officials believe he can trim that a bit. And even if he doesn’t, his power potential, baserunning and defensive skills remain off the charts.
Brady House checked in at No. 3 in this year’s ranking, up two slots from last year, and that’s a really important development. After struggling in his first full professional season and then missing months with a back injury, House’s stock was down entering 2023. He raised it back up by slashing .312/.365/.497 and twice getting promoted this season, finishing alongside Crews and Wood in Harrisburg.
For the second straight year, Cade Cavalli is ranked fourth by Baseball America. That makes sense, because the hard-throwing right-hander missed the entire season following Tommy John surgery. Everyone remains high on Cavalli, who is aiming for June return to the Nats rotation. But until he actually makes it back, it’s impossible to know if he’ll still be the pitcher he was always supposed to be pre-injury.
The fifth-rated prospect on the list is another newcomer: Yohandy Morales, the second-round pick from Miami who has already made a real impact as a professional. The 6-foot-4 corner infielder hit well at both levels of Single-A and actually finished the season with all the other big names in Harrisburg. He’ll likely begin next season in Double-A again, and the question will be if (or when) the Nats move him from third base to first base.
Jackson Rutledge climbed up three spots from 2023 to 2024, evidence of his long-awaited progress on the mound. The 2019 first-round pick finally stayed healthy and effective and wound up making his major league debut in September. The Nationals may want the right-hander to gain a bit more experience at Triple-A Rochester before he becomes a permanent big leaguer, but he’s put himself in the conversation in a way he had not since the year he was drafted.
The two biggest drop-offs in the last year were Robert Hassell III (from No. 2 to No. 7) and Elijah Green (from No. 3 to No. 9). Hassell had a rough season after breaking his right hamate bone in the Arizona Fall League and for now has taken a distinct back seat to fellow outfielders Crews and Wood. Green, the 2022 first-round pick, struck out an astounding 42 percent of the time in low Single-A and remains a work-in-progress. Nobody’s giving up on either player, but each needs to show legitimate signs of progress in 2024.
Sandwiched in between Hassell and Green is yet another outfielder: Cristhian Vaquero, a dynamic 18-year-old outfielder who made his American professional debut this season and reached Fredericksburg. The Cuban defector has a long way to go before anyone’s talking about watching him play in D.C., but his raw skills are real.
Speaking of raw skills, Jarlin Susana checked in as the No. 10 prospect on Baseball America’s list. The flame-throwing right-hander has always been the ultimate high-risk, high-reward prospect, and that hasn’t changed. Susana had a 5.14 ERA in 17 starts for Fredericksburg, but his triple-digit fastball still leaves scouts salivating. If he can put it all together, he could be a big league starter someday. If not, he’d still be an awfully imposing late-inning weapon out of the bullpen.