Newly acquired players have reshaped Nats farm system

It will be years before anyone can know if the Nationals got enough legitimate prospects during their 36-hour trade deadline binge of 2021 to lift the franchise back into contention. As much as folks want to instantly grade a team’s performance on trades, it simply can’t be done until all involved players have a chance to prove who they are on the field.

But this much we can say already about the 12 young players the Nats just acquired from six clubs in exchange for eight veterans: They have dramatically altered the makeup and projection of the organization’s farm system.

MLBPipeline.com has a regularly updated ranking of each franchise’s top 30 prospects. Of the Nationals’ top 30, a whopping 10 were acquired during this most recent flurry of trades. Six of their top-16 prospects are now the recently acquired players.

And the organization’s top two prospects now are both newcomers. Catcher Keibert Ruiz is the new No. 1, followed closely behind by right-hander Josiah Gray. That’s right, at least for the moment, both of those players are considered better prospects than Cade Cavalli, the 2020 first-round draft pick who has turned heads everywhere and on Friday night struck out 12 batters over 6 2/3 scoreless innings for Double-A Harrisburg.

Even more good news: Both Ruiz and Gray already debuted in the majors for the Dodgers, and the Nationals appear to be planning to have both on the major league roster in D.C. very soon.

Nats-Park-Grounds-Crew-sidebar.jpg“Well, I think they’re big league-ready players,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “They’ve proven themselves at the minor league level.”

Ruiz, 23, hit .311 with 18 doubles, 16 homers, 45 RBIs, a .381 on-base percentage and 1.012 OPS in 52 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City, and then went 1-for-7 with a homer and five strikeouts in his first taste of the majors.

The Nationals clearly see Ruiz as a long-term answer behind the plate, much as they saw Wilson Ramos when they acquired him from the Twins for Matt Capps at the 2010 trade deadline.

“I think not only did we get a very talented, impactful player, we got it at a position that we really needed it,” Rizzo said. “It’s one of the key positions in all of baseball, and ... like when we acquired Wilson Ramos in a trade, you can see what having that particular position, having an impact at that position, can do for a baseball team. I think that he was a focal point of what we were trying to do at the trade deadline, and we identified him and he was the main cog that we were trying to get.”

Gray, 23, just made his major league debut for the Dodgers 11 days ago, giving up four runs in four innings of relief but striking out seven. He started five days later and held the Rockies to two runs over four innings.

In three minor league seasons, Gray has a 2.41 ERA, 0.934 WHIP and 228 strikeouts in 198 innings. Which suggests he may be ready to pitch for the Nationals very soon.

“He’s big league-ready,” Rizzo said. “He was a starting pitcher on a championship-caliber club with the Dodgers, and I think he’ll come over here and just continue to improve and make himself into one of the elite starting pitchers in the game.”

Beyond those two big names who now reside atop the Nationals prospect list, several others acquired Thursday and Friday are only a few notches lower on the board. Right-hander Gerardo Carrillo is now ranked 10th, with righty Aldo Ramirez right behind him.

All told, six of the Nats’ current 16 top prospects were acquired in the last two days alone, with catcher Riley Adams (13th) and right-hander Mason Thompson (16th) joining the aforementioned quartet in now helping reshape what had been rated the majors’ worst farm system but could be viewed in an entirely different light soon enough.

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