C – Israel Pineda – Going into 2019, the Nationals boast one of the better veteran catching tandems in the National League. Yan Gomes came to the Nats in a December 2018 trade and Kurt Suzuki has hit .256 and clubbed 31 home runs over the last two seasons. This leaves post-prime catcher Spencer Kieboom, light-hitting Pedro Severino and recently off-suspension Raudy Read to fight over the high minors. Now, in the ‘2018 performance” realm alone, there weren’t really that many standout, stand-alone performers this season in the lower minors, yet when you look at the scouting reports on a few guys, it was actually pretty close between 2016 – 6th rounder Tres Barrera and international free agent signee out of Venezuela Israel Pineda. According to Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo, who moderated the Nationals 2019 Top 10 prospects chat back in December, he listed Barrera as the organization’s top defensive catcher, while the soon-to-be 19-year-old Pineda possesses higher upside with the bat. Pineda is five years Barrera’s junior and logged quite a season for SS Auburn last year. That pushes him to the front as this year’s UTR OAS. He debuted in the Gulf Coast League in 2017 and in 17 games, the 5’11”- 190 lb. righty batted .288 with five doubles, 12 RBi and 10 runs scored while throwing out 43 percent of would be base stealers. He received an assertive push to SS Auburn for the 2018 season and regressed a bit, but still batted .274, hit his first four home runs as a pro, ranked fifth on the team in total bases (64) and despite the increase in competition, Pineda still logged a 41 percent caught-stealing rate. I’m not counting out Raudy Read as the Nats future behind the plate, but with Pineda being so young and his continued growth on both sides of the ball, Read may have company soon. Pineda very well could be headed to LoA Hagerstown for the 2019 season. 1B – Andry Arias – In spite of the recent renaissance veteran corner-infielder-turned-full-time first baseman Ryan Zimmerman has experienced, and having all-time UTR favorite Matt Adams as Zimmerman’s backup heading into 2019, you can’t overlook the fact that they are both north of 30 years old and each have two years remaining on their contracts. In this case, you’re almost forced to start thinking about what Washington is going to do at the first base position moving forward. Some look at 2013 – 3rd rounder Drew Ward as the possible heir apparent, but with all due respect, he’s 24 years old, has a .255 career batting average and 55 total home runs in 632 minor league games. Whatever Washington plans to do to fill in the gaps, hopefully 18-year-old Andry Arias can provide some future hope. The Nationals signed Arias out of the Dominican Republic in July 2017 and the 6’3”- 180 lb. lefty made his pro debut last season with the DSL Nationals squad, where he batted .270 with nine doubles, seven triples, three home runs and led the DSL roster with 93 total bases. However, the key to Arias’ ascension through the system may not be his bat, but his defense, as he logged time not only at first base in his debut season, but in both outfield corners. So, if Arias continues to display a balanced swing, plus strike zone awareness and can maintain a polished presence on the field, he could be a very fast riser in the Nationals system. 2B –Viandel Pena – Call me crazy, but in the incredibly competitive National League East, my gut tells me that even without Bryce Harper, the Nationals did enough during the off-season to win the N.L. East this coming season, and even contend for a World Series title. I think with the addition of catcher Yan Gomes, veteran pitcher Anibal Sanchez to the back of the rotation and with a healthy Victor Robles and Trea Turner, this could key them to a division title. However, the bargain basement inclusion of second baseman Brian Dozier is almost immeasurable. Discounting a statistically lost 2018 with Minnesota and the Dodgers, Dozier has averaged 28 home runs, 34 doubles, 16 stolen bases and 98 runs scored per season over his seven year career. All for only $9M a year? Unreal. But the minors keep on chugging and the thought process at second base past 2019 is that with the presence of Trea Turner at short, the Nats will shift prospect Carter Kieboom to second despite the fact that he’s never played a pro game at the position. He should see all of 2019 in AAA Fresno, with a likely call-up to the majors by season’s end. This leaves the UTR door wide open and we’re going to dig real deep with the 17-year-old Viandel Pena, whom the Nationals signed out of the Dominican Republic in July 2017 for $175K. The 5’8” switch-hitter came to the organization with a smooth swing and an advanced feel for the strike zone and led the DSL Nationals squad in doubles (13), runs scored (49), ranked third in hits (60) and drew a team leading 47 walks to 51 strikeouts. Pena split time between second base (37 games) and shortstop (31), however, lagged defensively, as he committed a total of 15 errors between the two. Pena will be an interesting follow simply based on the fact that the Nationals are loaded with middle infield prospects, which slots him perfectly into the under-the-radar category. 3B – Jake Noll – If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m a big fan of Baseball America. Their annual Prospect Handbook is an absolute must have for anyone interested in just prospects in general or anyone who’s primary focal point is keeping up with the state of their favorite organization. One of my favorite features in the handbook is the “Projected Lineup”, and intriguing is that Anthony Rendon is the projected starter moving forward, yet has one only one year remaining on his contract. Now, I know this isn’t a tell-all sign that Washington plans to extend the 2011- 1st rounder, but it is more indicative of the state of the systems depth at third base. Personally, I’d extend Rendon. The guy is a stud at the position. However, I don’t want to steer off the path. This is UTR and this is the OAS list, and based off pure 2018 performance, we’ll give 2016- 7th rounder Jake Noll his final bow as a UTR qualifier. The 6’2”- 195 lb. Florida Gulf Coast University alum registered an even 66:66 games split between HiA Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg last season, posting a combined .291/.341/.412/.754 slashline along with 11 home runs, 20 doubles, 72 RBi and 81 runs scored. However, he committed a lackluster 17 errors at third, but played 17 games across the diamond at first, where he had a .994 fielding percentage. SS – Luis Garcia – As if outfield phenom Juan Soto chewing his way through three minor league levels, then crushing major league pitching with a .288 batting average, 22 home runs and 70 RBi’s as a 19-year-old in 2018 wasn’t enough, the Nats may have another superstar in 18-year-old Luis Garcia. It’s almost unreal what the New York, New York native did to Lo and HiA pitching last year. I don’t need to repeat it because if you’re here reading this and don’t know who Garcia is, you may need more help than Jim and I can give you. Simply put, he’s a true stud-in-waiting and has drawn outside comparisons to Soto for his ability to make in-game adjustments. If he continues his offensive onslaught on minor league pitching, it’s not out of the question to see him in Washington by either mid 2020 or even (aggressively) Opening Day 2021. LF – Pablo O’Connor – You’ve heard us use this word before: formality. And that’s the perfect word to use in the circumstance that is 2018 draft pick Pablo O’Connor making the UTR OAS list. After all, you saw what Washington teen phenom Juan Soto did last year right? Case in point, Soto will be the ripe age of 20 for the entire 2019 season and it’s probably safe to say he’ll man the position for at least the next five years. With that said, the Nationals got a pretty good season out of a 27th rounder. The Azusa Pacific University draftee went straight to the Gulf Coast League in his debut and in a short 10 game stay batted .324 with four doubles and four runs scored. He was promoted to SS Auburn in early July and in 52 games with the Doubledays, he finished within the New York-Penn League top 10 in batting (.296), total bases (98). SLG% (.460) and OPS (.796). With the future of Wsshington’s outfield right in front of us with Soto and Robles, O’Conner is another name to follow, hoping that he can raise the outfield talent floor. CF – Gage Canning – Can you imagine being a center fielder inside the Nationals minor league ranks knowing that #1 prospect Victor Robles is ahead of you?? I can’t say it would be demoralizing because after all, if the major league squad is successful/wins, the organization wins right? With a healthy Robles ready to take aim on the upcoming season, this year’s 2018 UTR OAS is just that, a 2018 organizational all-star. Nothing more, nothing less; or is he?? The 5’10”- 175 lb. Canning was selected in the 5th round out of Arizona State University in 2018 and brought with him (ironically) Adam Eaton comps: plus-speed, great defensive range, glove ard arm, with the potential to hit for power. The Nationals assigned him to SS Auburn where in only 14 games with the Doubledays, Canning hit .315, had eight extra-base hits and scored 13 runs before an early-July promotion to LoA Hagerstown, where he slowed down a bit posting a .233 average, but hit four more homers and added another 15 runs scored. Not surprising is that wherever the 21-year-old played in the outfield, he registered a flawless 1.000 fielding percentage. Could be a big time mover up prospect boards in 2019 despite already holding a top 10 rank inside this year’s MLB Pipeline Nationals Top 30. RF – Rhett Wiseman – Much like OAS third baseman Jake Noll above, this is right fielder Rhett Wiseman’s last hurrah as a UTR qualifier. He will turn 25 in mid-June which will cut him off from daily tracking. In a case like Wiseman however, he made the list through compartmentalizing his 2018 stats. Had a 20 year old hit .253 with 23 doubles, 20 home runs and drive in 63, then we might truly have something to talk about. But a player his age should be killing LoA pitching. Other than Robles, Soto and minor leaguers Canning (above) and Telmito Agustin, who’s been a staple here at the website since his pro debut in 2014, Wiseman is destined for organizational depth at this point. Top 5 Starting Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP Jackson Tetreault – (10.5) / HiA Potomac
** I read once in a Nats blog of concerns that the Nationals seemed to focus on drafting relief pitchers instead of developing starters. I can’t remember which draft year this was…..but by looking at this years UTR-OAS roster, it could have been the last couple years. I was somewhat surprised by the lower Factor Scores generated by Nats pitchers in 2018. That’s OK, because a pitcher like Tetreault becomes a benefactor within a thin system. The 7th rounder (2017) is a work in progress, but was able to advance to HiA Potomac last season. The UTR label may be short-lived for the 6′ 5″ 170lb right-hander. He already has a 4-pitch arsenal that includes a heavy sinking fastball (90-94), and more velo should come as he adds-on more bulk on his lanky frame. A hard breaking cutter that was tagged as one of the best in the minors, a developing changeup and curve. Tetreault only turns 23-years old in June, so he’s definitely one to keep an eye on, as he returns for a full season at Potomac in 2019.
2. RHP Wil Crowe – (9)/ Double-A Harrisburg
** Crowe is the highest ranked prospect (Baseball America) on this roster. Drafted in the 2nd round in 2017, the now 24-year old was named as the Nationals Co-Pitcher of the Year within the Nats minor league system. Washington is handling the 6′ 2″ 240 lb very carefully, as they received a scare this past season when Crowe suffered a sore elbow in mid-June. The concern stemmed that Crowe had Tommy John surgery during his collegiate career at U. of South Carolina. The right-hander wasn’t the same upon his return from the DL, he either wore down or the psyche of re-injuring the reconstructed elbow. As a high draft choice, Crowe no longer projects as a top of the rotation type, but rather as an innings-eater. He possesses a lively mid 90’s fastball, along with 3 secondaries that includes an above-average changeup, his best pitch.
3. LHP Ben Braymer – (9) / HiA Potomac
** Braymer enjoys the honor of joining Crowe as the 2018 Co-Pitcher of the Year. But unlike Crowe, the 18th round pick in 2016 currently has ceiling in long-relief. Used strictly in relief in college, Braymer displayed the mental toughness in 2018 by playing the swingman role at HiA Potomac, this after 7 appearances at LoA Hagerstown. He led all Nationals minor league pitchers with a 2.28 ERA in 28 appearances with 11 starts.
4. RHP Joan Baez – (8.5) / HiA Potomac
** Baez has been the Nationals system since signing as an International free agent in 2014. After 11 DSL starts, the 6′ 3″ 190 lb righty was quickly promoted to Gulf Coast League where he posted respectable numbers. I placed him on my 2015 “One to Watch” list, and though he took some lumps, Baez advanced across three levels and reached LoA Hagerstown. A mid-season injury dented his development in 2016, but he just missed the cut on that seasons UTR-OAS roster. He narrowly makes the list for 2018 and gets the #4 spot with his past resume. Baez didn’t put-up glaring numbers last year (7.4 K9 / 5.0 BB9) with Potomac over 25 starts. Baez will someday find his way into the Washington bullpen, in long relief.
T5. LHP Nick Raquet – (8.5) / HiA Potomac
** Raquet has impressed the Nationals organization, and quickly found himself at Potomac in his sophomore pro season. He threw 53.1 innings in his debut season, mostly with short-season Auburn, and made two outstanding starts in front of the hometown crowd against the State College Spikes (St.Louis). Already getting the reputation as a power lefty, the 3rd round pick in 2017 commands a low 90’s fastball with heavy sink, that reaches 98 mph. The projectable 6′ 0″ 215 lb southpaw was named the SAL All-Star team during his time at LoA Hagerstown.
T5. RHP Tomas Alastre – (8.5) / LoA Hagerstown
** Alastre also projects as a future swingman. He’s armed with a 3-pitch mix consisting of mid 90’s fastball, curveball, and changeup.
Top 3 Relief Pitchers – (Factor Score) / Highest Level Attained
1. RHP James Bourque – (11)/ Double-A Harrisburg
** Bourque spent three seasons in the starting role (missed 2015 season) and worked exclusively from the bullpen in 2018. The sharp rise in his K rate (12.9) turned heads and the 14th round pick from 2014 may find himself in Washington sometime in 2019. He was added to the 40-man roster and possesses a 97-98 mph fastball with late life.
2. RHP Jeremy McKinney – (10) / HiA Potomac
3. RHP A.J. Bogucki – (4) / HiA Potomac