WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals have more than six months to go before the MLB non-waiver trade deadline, but Monday’s release of the Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list should confirm what the front office likely already knew: the farm is short on high-end talent.
The Nationals landed high on the list with outfielder Victor Robles earning the preseason title of No. 5 overall prospect in baseball. The 20-year-old prospect has been slow-rolled through the Nats system and given an opportunity to dominate at each level.
Last year, against AA pitching, Robles put up his best offensive numbers, hitting .324/.394/.489 and developing his plus defense. That success earned him a late-season promotion to the majors, where he held his own at .250/.308/.458 in 13 games.
It remains to be seen how new manager Dave Martinez will handle youngsters, but the Nats will likely need him this season.
Robles is joined on the list by fellow Dominican outfield prospect Juan Soto, who raked at Hagerstown last year in low-A ball, hitting .360/.427/.523. Soto ranks 56th overall and just turned 19 in October, meaning that he will likely follow Robles’ progression through the system.
That’s it for the Nationals’ prospects in the top 100.
As MASN’s Mark Zuckerman pointed out, this is the first time in six years that the Nats don’t boast a top-100 pitching prospect, with many promising young arms used in the last two seasons as trade bait.
That’s why, starting now, the Nationals need to acquire the talent necessary to be ready for the season. General manager Mike Rizzo has shown no fear in scooping up luxury free agents on the eve of Spring Training. This year, that practice could be a necessity.
If injuries or incompetence beset the roster early in the season, the trade market won’t necessarily be there to bail them out. That’s not to say that the farm system lacks other talents, but blockbuster trades are built around top prospects.
The Nationals are expecting to compete for a World Series in 2018, and their window could be closing. Max Scherzer showed his first signs of mortality last season, Stephen Strasburg always requires some level of concern and Bryce Harper could be entering his final season in D.C.
If a deal needs to get done, there will be pressure on Rizzo to pull the trigger. But if the team goes belly-up in July, there is also a chance that the Nats could turn veterans into the next crop of prospects.
Either way, the farm system is at an unusual crossroads in 2018. Depending on how this year goes, it could be flush with talent or barren by this time next year.