This season has been a mixed bag for Washington’s minor league affiliates, and it’ll likely stay that way for the rest of the season. As discussed throughout local media, the farm system has improved in the last 12 months, but its depth from top to bottom is still somewhat subpar.
With that said, there are some major sources of excitement throughout the organization, not the least of which resides in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
The Prized Possession At The Plate
I really try my best to not speak hyperbolically as a baseball viewer. When things are going great, there’s always a chance that they can get worse, and vice versa. And even in the moment, there’s typically more nuance than data or the eye test reveal.
Here’s the indisputable, cold-hard fact, though. Brady House has advanced, next-level baseball talent, especially in the batter’s box.
When I researched House prior to the draft and subsequently wrote about him once they selected him at No. 11 overall, I quickly learned that he had the ability to become a very good hitter for a long time. I often saw comparisons to players like a right-handed version of Joey Gallo, or even Nolan Arenado. That all – particularly the latter – felt too good to be true.
But now, it makes sense.
House tore up the rookie Gulf Coast League as an 18-year-old last season. He only played there for 16 games, since there’s not much time between the draft and the conclusion of the minor league season. However, in that small sample size, he batted .322 with a .970 OPS.
Now House is obliterating the Low-A Carolina league. Through 15 games, his batting average sits at .379 with a .985 OPS. He’s still only 18, yet he’s the team’s No. 3 hitter in the lineup every day, driving in a hysterical 23 runs in those 15 games, playing a solid shortstop despite his atypically large stature at the position, and he’s absolutely knocking at the door towards another promotion.
MLB Pipeline currently rates House as its No. 48 prospect in the league. Barring a midseason slump, that ranking will rise when they re-rate prospects near the Trade Deadline. By that time, he’ll almost certainly be playing in High-A Wilmington, where he’ll continue to be an everyday shortstop. At some point during his progression, that might change, but it won’t be until 2023 at the absolute earliest.
If you live near Fredericksburg, catch him while you can, because he won’t be there for much longer!
The Rest Of The Fred Nats Lineup
The position player depth in Fredericksburg is remarkable. Here’s their most frequent batting order, with each player’s OPS also listed. For context (although it fluctuates every year), league-average is in the low .700s, and the low .900s is generally viewed as the cutoff for the elite tier.
RF Jacob Young (.744), CF Jeremy De La Rosa (.894), SS Brady House (.985), 1B Branden Boissiere (.812), DH Leandro Emiliani (1.088), 3B Sammy Infante (.843), C Geraldi Diaz (1.031), LF T.J. White (.923), 2B Viandel Pena (.973)
Young (seven) and De La Rosa (five) pose base-stealing threats at the top of the lineup. The team also boasts bench bats like infielder Yoander Rivero (.949) and catcher/outfielder Steven Williams (.795). To have 11 above-average hitters on any roster is remarkable.
The pitching staff has been less impressive, arguably led by Rodney Theophile, who has a 1.20 ERA through three starts. The “Fred Nats” currently have an 11-4 win/loss record and they’ve outscored their opposition by 47 runs – nearly twice as much as any other team in the Carolina League.
Building Up The Brand
The entire experience surrounding the Fredericksburg team is great. They’ve established a great social media presence, and play-by-play voice Joey Zanaboni has made a strong impression on viewers/listeners.
It may only be Low-A, but the Fred Nats truly are the best show in town.
The rest of the system hasn’t seen quite as much individual success, but the teams are doing a good job at racking up wins anyway. Rochester (Triple-A) sits at 9-9, Harrisburg (Double-A) is 10-5, and Wilmington (High-A) is 8-7.
We’ve discussed the strong start Luis Garcia has had this season. Fellow 40-man roster players who are hitting at a nice clip are outfielder Donovan Casey, catcher Tres Barrera and recently-acquired outfielder Josh Palacios, and other hitters like Andrew Stevenson, Jake Noll and Nick Banks are also producing at high levels.
Some of Rochester’s successful pitchers have appeared at the big league level already this season. The most productive pitcher you haven’t seen with the Nationals is right-handed reliever Carl Edwards Jr, who has only given up one run through nearly nine innings. Edwards most notably pitched in the Cubs bullpen from 2016-19.
Catcher Taylor Gushue, first baseman K.J. Harrison and outfielder Justin Connell have carried the Harrisburg offense, along with speedy centerfielder Rudy Martin. Overall, however, the bats haven’t performed exceptionally well. Most notably, No. 22 prospect Jackson Cluff has slumped to a 4-for-51 start at the plate.
Pitching has carried the team, led by left-handers Evan Lee and Matt Cronin, and righty Cole Henry. Lee, who is on the 40-man roster, has pitched to a 1.93 ERA in his first two appearances. Cronin is a reliever, but hasn’t allowed a run in his first five appearances. Henry (widely regarded as the No. 3 prospect in the organization) is recovering from an injury he suffered last season, but has yet to give up a run through three appearances this year. All three of them are averaging at least 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings, which is high but in line with their career averages.
Wilmington’s lineup has been carried by Omar Meregildo and notable prospect Yasel Antuna, who is transitioning from shortstop to left field. Aside from Fredericksburg, Wilmington arguably sports the top trio of base stealers (Jordy Barley, Antuna and Cody Wilson) in the system, although Barley and Wilson have been pedestrian in the batter’s box.
The pitching staff lacks flare, but it’s led by a trio of starters (Jake Irvin, Mitchell Parker and Seth Shuman) with ERAs below 3.00 through three starts. The most intriguing of the bunch is Irvin, a 6-foot-6 25-year-old right-handed flamethrower who’s returning from Tommy John surgery. When healthy, he’s posted a career 3.36 ERA, and a couple more strong starts should earn him a promotion to Harrisburg.
The Future Could Be Fun!
Around the midpoint of the season, minor league promotions and natural attrition ramp up. Some of those questionable groups, like the Triple-A starting rotation and Double-A lineup, cycle in new players and inject some energy onto the roster.
I’ve speculated with Nationals fans on Twitter what rosters might look like in the upcoming months, once standout players earn promotions. The Double-A pitching trio will rise to the doorstep of the big leagues, and a large chunk of the Fred Nats lineup will move up to more competitive baseball.
The further players like House, Henry, Antuna, Cronin and De La Rosa (all of whom MLB Pipeline has in Washington’s top 15 prospects), the easier it will be to see how the pieces to the puzzle might fit together. One day, many of them will have a chance to fill important roles on the Nationals that are currently vacant – and might stay that way for a year or two.