With the 2020 season in question, it is never too early to look toward the future. For the reigning world champions, the future looks bright, as their top-heavy farm system will be churning out prospects to the majors shortly. Below is a ranking of the Nationals’ most prominent prospects based on their potential growth and physical tools.
1) Carter Kieboom: SS/3B Age: 22 ETA: 2020
Kieboom has been the focal point of the Nats’ farm system since he was taken with the 28th overall pick in 2016. Despite an underwhelming stint in the Nationals’ lineup early in 2019 (11 GP, .128 Avg.), he landed comfortably with Fresno AAA where he proceeded to bat .303 with 16 HRs to round out his 2019.
With the most potential to break into the lineup this year, Carter Kieboom seems best suited to fill the void left by Anthony Rendon at third base. With Asdrubal Cabrera as his main competition, either a slow start or injury to Cabrera could see Kieboom as a longstanding fixture in the infield. Before the COVID-19 related suspension, Kieboom spent plenty of time at third base in spring training and batted a respectable .250.
Ranked 11th in the Baseball Prospects and 15th in Baseball America prospects rankings; Kieboom is the top dog in the Nationals’ farm system. Great contact and power will evolve with more big league experience. If his fielding skills can continue to develop Kieboom will become a mainstay in the Nationals infield for years to come.
2) Luis Garcia: SS/2B Age: 20 ETA: 2021
Having just turned 20 years old, Garcia has the highest ceiling and room for development of all Nationals’ prospects. Vacillating between shortstop and second base during his young career, Garcia has shown an aptitude for fielding. So much so that in playing 38 games at second base he did not record a single error. Currently he holds a 60 rating for both his arm and glove based on the 20-80 scale by MLB Pipeline.
In an aggressive move, Garcia was promoted to AA ball in 2019, making him the youngest active player in that league. An unflattering .280 OBP followed and highlighted Garcia’s struggles to acclimate to the new level of competition. The lack of power he generates is a critique in his game but in the coming years his frame should fill out to give his swing more consistency. The hope is that given his young age he will be able to develop at AA and continue to climb up the farm system.
Currently the shortstop position is under Trea Turner’s thumb and is likely to stay that way leading up to his free agency. If Garcia continues to develop and expound upon his already impressive fielding, second base will surely be Garcia’s assignment. He impressed Dave Martinez as he hit .417 in 15 games with the Nats in 2020-spring training. Look for Garcia to bounce back in 2020 and force another promotion sooner rather than later.
3) Jackson Rutledge: RHP Age: 21 ETA: 2021
At an imposing 6’8”, Rutledge is a physical specimen on the mound. With a fastball reaching in the mid 90s and slider that touches 90 as well, he presents the best strike out ability of any of the Nationals’ prospects. In 2019 with single-A Hagerstown, Rutledge finished 2-0 in 10 starts with a 3.13 ERA striking out 39 in 37 and 1/3 innings of work.
The most dangerous pitch in Jackson’s arsenal is that slider which can translate well to the majors. In order to maximize its potential, he will need to gain greater control of his curveball in order to keep batters honest. While serviceable now, that curveball will be the key that unlocks a pathway to a long and prosperous MLB career.
Rutledge projects as a future starter for the Nationals, injecting youth into that rotation. Imposing size coupled with great arm strength will serve him well while navigating the minors and should make a seamless transition as the level of competition continues to increase.
4) Drew Mendoza: 1B/3B Age: 22 ETA: 2021
Coming out of Florida State, Drew Mendoza saw significant interest from major league scouts by showcasing great plate discipline in the ultra competitive ACC conference. He fell to the Nationals in the third round of the 2019 draft and has since been making waves in single-A ball. With a slash line of. 264/. 377/. 383, Mendoza shows that the level of competition in college has greatly prepared him for a transition to a professional career.
At 6’5” 230 lbs. he has the physical tools of a major league first baseman and commands respect at the plate in his stature alone. That being said, his power as of right now leaves a bit to be desired. Understandably, that aspect will develop as he continues to make the transition from an aluminum to wooden bat. His greatest asset is his discipline at the plate. In 2019 he had a 1.67 K/BB rate, which for a rookie at any level is indicative of great coaching and patience.
Mendoza’s path to the majors may be more straightforward than some may think. If he locks in on first base as his preferred position, a station waiting for him in Washington. With Zimmerman no longer able to be an every day player at this point in his career, Mendoza could cement himself as a fixture on first base. Of course, he will have the likes of veteran Eric Thames to compete with but as we have seen in Mendoza’s case, he doesn’t mind a bit of competition.
5) Mason Denaburg: RHP Age: 20 ETA: 2023
Denaburg rounds out this list being the late bloomer comparatively speaking. Taken by the Nationals at 27th overall in 2018 it has taken a bit longer for him to find his feet in the minors. While playing in the GCL, Denaburg posted a dismal 7.52 ERA with 14 walks in only 20 innings of work.
Despite the unimpressive start he is still a project that can produce a huge payoff for the club. Much like Luis Garcia, his age shows that the improvement will come and has the potential to climb the ranks of the farm system. Armed with a mid to upper 90s fastball and a hard breaking ball, Denaburg can acclimate to the level of competition in good time. Most important to his development is the implementation of overall command of his arsenal of pitches.
At 6’4” 195 lbs. he has the physical tools that make an ascension not so far-fetched. He is one for the future and the Nationals expect him to round out his abilities to a major league aptitude by his 23rd birthday. It will be interesting to see Denaburg’s growth in the years to come and to have a greater sample size of his time on the mound.