The Nationals won the World Series last year with the oldest roster in baseball, so it’s not surprising they went out this winter and either signed or re-signed a bunch of veterans who will help keep the team’s average age near the top of the sport again. Nothing wrong with that philosophy, especially when it worked so well in 2019.
But it’s worth noting that a Nats farm system that was so instrumental in the franchise’s initial ascension from laughingstock to annual contender might be as depleted in elite talent right now as it’s been in a long time.
Both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com released their annual lists of the top 100 prospects last week, and in each case only two members of the Nationals organization made the cut: Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia.
Kieboom, the 22-year-old infielder who could wind up as the Nats’ opening day third baseman, was rated the sport’s 15th best prospect by Baseball America, 21st by MLBPipeline.com. Garcia, the 19-year-old infielder who turned some heads in big league camp last spring, was rated similarly by both publications (91st by Baseball America, 97th by MLB Pipeline).
And that’s it. Nobody else in the organization made the list.
Now, it should be noted that Nationals prospects who were touted as top 100 players in previous seasons have gone on to make their mark in the majors: Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Lucas Giolito, in particular.
The scouting world remains convinced Kieboom is the real deal and wasn’t scared off by his inauspicious, 11-day debut stint in the big leagues last year. Garcia did drop a bit in the rankings from last year, but at such a young age there’s still plenty of time for him to realize his potential.
What’s most notable (and perhaps ominous) about the state of the Nationals farm system is the continued lack of elite pitching prospects. Only five pitchers drafted by the Nats since 2005 have gone on to start at least 30 big league games for them: John Lannan (2005), Craig Stammen (2005), Ross Detwiler (2007), Jordan Zimmermann (2007) and Stephen Strasburg (2009).
As you can see, none was drafted in the last decade, though Erick Fedde (26 starts, drafted in 2014) and Austin Voth (10 starts, drafted in 2013) could join the list if either sticks in the rotation this season.
Also, three pitchers drafted by the Nationals since 2010 have made 30 or more big league starts for other organizations after getting traded: Giolito, Robbie Ray, Nick Pivetta. And Jesus Luzardo, drafted in 2016 and traded the following summer, is poised to break through in the Athletics rotation this year.
And it’s too early to cast any judgments on pitchers who were drafted the last two summers: Mason Denaburg, Tim Cate and Jackson Rutledge. Maybe one or more climbs the ladder and earns a permanent spot in the rotation in D.C. before long.
Still, the Nats haven’t successfully hit on as many homegrown pitching prospects as they would have liked in the last decade. That explains, in part, why they’ve spent so much money to sign Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin as free agents and then fork over hundreds of millions of dollars to retain Strasburg for the long term.
Because they’ve got those veterans (plus Aníbal Sánchez), the Nationals enter this season with no concerns about their rotation. It remains one of the best in baseball, and it once again will be asked to lead the way into October.
But one of these years, the Nats are going to need a homegrown pitcher to work his way up through the system, reach the majors and then prove he deserves to stay as a frontline starter.