Henry deserves place alongside Nats’ top pitching prospects

We spend the majority of our time here talking about major leaguers, but with the lockout now preventing teams from making any transactions involving players on 40-man rosters, let’s take an opportunity to delve deeper into some of the Nationals’ top minor leaguers. We continue this weekly series with the organization’s No. 7 prospect ...

RHP COLE HENRY

Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 215 lbs.

Age on opening day 2022: 22

How acquired: Second-round pick, 2020 draft, LSU

2021 stats (High Single-A Wilmington): 3-3, 1.88 ERA, 9 G, 8 GS, 43 IP, 23 H, 10 R, 9 ER, 3 HR, 11 BB, 63 SO, 5 HBP, 0.791 WHIP, .158 Opp. AVG

2021 stats (Rookie-level Florida Complex League): 0-2, 6.75 ERA, 2 GS, 4 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 7 SO, 1 HBP, 1.500 WHIP, .278 Opp. AVG

baseballs-in-bin-sidebar.jpg2021 analysis: Most of the attention on the Nationals’ top pitching prospects has centered on recent first-round picks Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge, plus Josiah Gray (once the young right-hander was acquired from the Dodgers last summer). Cole Henry, though, certainly deserves to be included in the same conversation, particularly after a strong first professional season that was marred only by time lost due to a sore elbow.

Drafted behind Cavalli in the second round in 2020, Henry joined the husky right-hander and Rutledge in opening the 2021 season at Wilmington. Five starts in, he owned a 3.00 ERA and 35 strikeouts in only 24 innings. But then came the elbow injury, prompting the Nationals to shut him down for 2 1/2 months.

Henry finally returned to game action in mid-August, via a pair of rehab starts in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League. Once he proved he was healthy again, he returned to the rotation in Wilmington, where he finished with a flourish: one run allowed in 19 innings over four starts, with 29 strikeouts and only three walks.

Because he was healthy and still short on innings for the season, the Nationals sent Henry to the Arizona Fall League, where he faced higher-level competition and continued to thrive. Over 19 innings with the Surprise Saguaros, he posted a 3.32 ERA, 1.105 WHIP and a whopping 30 strikeouts to cap a strong debut year in the minors.

2022 outlook: Henry is short on experience, but that’s more a reflection of the pandemic and the time he lost last summer to the injury. By all accounts, he’s a more advanced and polished pitcher than most with only 66 innings of professional work.

Assuming good health this spring, Henry should open the season at Double-A Harrisburg, an appropriate level for the 22-year-old. His arsenal (a mid-90s four-seam fastball, sinking two-seamer, curveball and changeup) profiles well for a major league starter. He just needs to start building up innings and facing tougher competition.

As they are with all of their pitching prospects, the Nats will be cautious with Henry. But as a college pitcher, they won’t be afraid to test him more than a high school arm (again, assuming no injury issues). If he enjoys success over the season’s first half at Double-A, they won’t hesitate to promote him to Triple-A Rochester. And if he’s clearly ready for it, they probably would be willing to give him a look in D.C. come September.

Whether he makes his major league debut this year or not, Henry is right in the middle of the conversation when club officials are projecting their long-term rotation. As we’ve seen over the years, you can’t count on all of these guys panning out, but there are reasons to be more optimistic about Henry’s chances of making it than several other prospects past and present.

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