Nationals Taking Step Back in NL East

While the Nationals continue to trade their prospects for veterans in an unsuccessful bid to advance in the playoffs the Phillies and Braves kept their young players and leap frogged over the Nationals last year. Now the Nationals have to prove the 2018 non-playoff season was not a fluke. The consistently underperforming club has only appeared in the top ten prospect lists in 2010 when they had Stephen Strasburg, Derek Norris and Chris Marrero listed. Only Strasburg has contributed to their playoff failures. Last year Victor Robles, Juan Soto, Carter Kieboom and Erick Fedde appeared on top 100 lists. Juan Soto became a breakout star, finishing second to Ronald Acuna in the 2018 Rookie of the Year race.

The Nationals still have some hope to sign Bryce Harper. If that does not come to pass they still have Victor Robles waiting in the wings. He won’t be the same hitter as Juan Soto, but he will provide far better centerfield defense than Harper. His routes to the ball need improving but his speed can make up for his mistakes. The bat should also develop enough power to turn him into a 20/20 player in homeruns and stolen bases. Last year he slugged .525 in limited major league at bats (59) which was much greater than his .370 minor league slugging production. An injured elbow limited him to 52 minor league games. If not for the injury it would have been Robles who would have been called up instead of Soto.

Carter Kieboom may be the next best prospect for the Nationals. His father played ball in the Netherlands, giving Carter enough genes to convince the Nationals to make him their first pick in 2016. He will not be able to wrestle the shortstop position away from Trea Turner so a move to second appears to be in his future. His bat will make him an offensive power with 20 plus homeruns per year. The defense will not be outstanding but he will not hurt you with the glove. Expect him to wear a Nationals uniform sometime in 2019.

That leaves Luis Garcia as a man without a position. Fortunately for the Nationals he is still a couple years from competing for a spot in the major leagues. Last year he played A ball where he combined to hit .298. The tools are there for him to stay at short with decent range and a strong arm, but playing in a super utility role in the near future is a possibility. His father played for the Tigers but Luis hopes for a more extended stay in the major leagues. His bat makes good contact but his extra bases will be more prone to hit the gaps than sail over the fences. There is enough speed in his legs for a possible move to centerfield but that is not a thought this early in his career.

On the pitching front Mason Denaburg was the Nationals first round pick in 2018. He pitched for the gold medal winning 18 and under team, which had ten players drafted in the first round. The Nationals decided to hold him out for the 2018 season. His fastball sits in the mid-90s with a promising curve and change to allow him to fit in the rotation. At 6′4″ he has a solid pitcher’s frame. His 2019 season may start in extended spring training until the rookie leagues open up.

Not much positive can be said for the Nationals 2017 first round pick Seth Romero. The talent is there but the character is not. He was suspended by his college and eventually dropped from the team for rules violations. The Nationals hoped he would mature but they also had to suspend him because of rules violations. Now an elbow injury and Tommy John surgery will leave him disabled for the 2019 season. A lefthander who can tick his fastball in the mid to high 90s is a valuable commodity so the Nationals will hope his year off will lead to another year of maturity.

In a Tanner for Tanner trade the Nationals sent Tanner Rourke to the Reds for Tanner Rainey. Rainey can hit triple digits with his fastball but has no clue where the plate is. In 44 minor league appearances hitters batted just .148 against him. In 8 major league appearances they tagged him at a .406 clip where he walked 12 hitters in just seven innings. If he can harness his control he will pitch in the Nationals bullpen in 2019, but that is asking for a lot.

Austin Voth has a chance to slip into the Nationals rotation in 2019. The stuff is not overwhelming with his fastball sitting in the low 90s. He relies on his change to make the fastball appear to have more zip. At best he could fill in as a temporary number five starter, but whether he can stay in that spot for an extended period is in doubt.

Will Crowe advanced to AA last year but struggled (0-5, 6.15). His fastball has decent velocity, hitting the mid-90s with above average breaking pitches and an effective change. He did have Tommy John surgery when pitching for South Carolina so that remains a concern. He will repeat AA and hope those numbers match what he put up in A ball (11-0, 2.69).

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