WASHINGTON — As an organization, the Nationals have never been especially willing to deal top prospects.
That is, until this winter, when they shipped highly-touted right-handers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for center fielder Adam Eaton.
The move was roundly criticized by many in and around the league. Bryce Harper reacted with a simple “Wow,” before later welcoming his new teammate to the District. The deal might very well come back to haunt the Nationals, but if Eaton is able to provide an offensive lift for the next two seasons and it leads to postseason success, GM Mike Rizzo won’t care much what the young pitchers end up accomplishing with the Chicago White Sox.
However, it’s hard to ignore the dearth of young talent in the Nationals’ farm system after the move.
Both MLB.com and ESPN (Insider) released their top 100 prospects over the weekend, and one has to squint extra hard to find representatives from Washington’s system, especially when one makes it past heralded outfielder Victor Robles.
Robles is ranked eighth overall in MLB.com’s rankings, higher than Giolito (12), Lopez (46) and Dunning (not among top 100). On the 20-80 scale, he is graded as such: 60 Hit, 50 Power, 70 Run, 65 Arm, 60 Field, 60 Overall. He is one of the harder players to grade, as he is still just 19 years old and has been flying through the farm system — he finished 2015 as the youngest everyday played in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League, and he hit .343/.424/.479 there.
“He’s a few years away from the Majors, but Robles is well on his way towards becoming a franchise player,” the MLB.com profile states.
Robles carries the same No. 8 ranking in Keith Law’s ESPN rankings, and he throws in an Andrew McCutchen comparison that should make Nationals fans salivate. Giolito checks in at No. 13 on Law’s list, while neither Lopez nor Dunning make the top 100.
After Robles, there is a lengthy silence from the Nationals.
With the MLB.com list, the next (and final) appearance by a Nationals player is righty Erick Fedde, who checks in at No. 60. Fedde is graded as such: 60 Fastball, 60 Slider, 50 Changeup, 55 Control, 55 Overall. The profile states Fedde has the ceiling of a No. 2 starter, with his fastball and slider each earning praise.
Fedde doesn’t make Law’s list of the top 100 prospects, nor does he make the Just Missed cut, however outfielder Juan Soto is the top player in the latter list and is considered Law’s 101st-ranked prospect.
Soto, who only turned 18 in October, projects as a corner outfielder with plus hitting and power, though he needs to get through another year before scouts can develop a stronger opinion of him one way or the other — he has just one season in the minors under his belt, but he managed a .368/.420/.553 line with five home runs and three triples over 45 games in the Gulf Coast League and the NYPL.
The Nationals certainly have a weaker farm system than they did a year ago, but they also have, in theory, a stronger big-league roster. With the trade of Danny Espinosa, last season’s starting shortstop, the Nats added a pair of low-level minor-league pitching prospects in Austin Adams and Kyle McGowin. Neither are expected to be especially relevant any time soon, but it never hurts having additional lottery tickets.
Rizzo, for what it’s worth, has a reputation for identifying under-the-radar prospects and turning them into useful pieces, so we might be talking about Adams and McGowin a little differently this time next year.
The draft is still several months away, and Rizzo could certainly find a way to auction off a veteran for one or two more prospects to help restock the farm system. But for now, it’s unusual seeing a Nationals farm system that’s so thin at the top.