Can Nationals Top Prospects Help Them Contend Right Now?

With James Wood and Dylan Crews knocking on the big league door, could the top prospects help the Nationals contend for a Wild Card spot?

James Wood of the Washington Nationals bats during the ninth inning of a spring training game.
WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 21, 2024: James Wood #50 of the Washington Nationals bats during the ninth inning of a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins at CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches on March 21, 2024 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

Not long ago, the Washington Nationals were hoisting the World Series trophy at the end of the season. 

The reason that many tend to forget that fact is because of how the team has fared since then, with a record of 217-329 heading into the 2024 season, including the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. 

Coming into the 2024 season, the Nationals were the betting favorites to finish in last place in the National League East, and yet, here we are. They are sitting just two games under .500 with a 36-38 record, only half a game back of the final spot in an incredibly disappointing NL Wild Card race.

CJ Abrams is leading the offense in his breakout season. Meanwhile, MacKenzie Gore is living up to the ace potential he was lauded for possessing as he developed in the Padres system. He is thriving alongside two other talented young left-handers in Washington’s rotation: Mitchell Parker and DJ Herz.

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Combine the production from those young players with what a handful of veterans have provided thus far, and you can paint a picture where, as the head coach of the Miami Heat says, Nats fans may be uttering, “We have enough”. 

Now, James Wood and Dylan Crews are knocking on the door of their major league debuts. So, could the next wave of the Nationals’ future catapult them into true playoff contender territory?

The past couple of seasons have been anything but exciting in Washington, but after a couple of trades to completely overhaul the farm system, and hitting on some of their top draft picks, is it time to take the Washington Nationals seriously?

Stats, records, and rankings updated prior to first pitch on June 20.

The Future

I would be remiss if I did not kick this off with the most exciting player and the main impetus behind the idea for this article. 

James Wood (OF) – Just Baseball’s No. 1 Overall Prospect

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James Wood, Just Baseball’s No.1 overall prospect, is on the precipice of making his MLB debut. After a slight delay due to an injury, he has finally made his way back into the lineup, and it should not be long before he is donning a Nationals jersey.

The development track for someone of James Wood’s profile has been nothing short of incredible. For someone of his stature to be able to move the way he does is a sight to see. Not to mention, what he is able to do at the plate. His ability to drive the ball to all fields with such power, his above-average bat control through the zone, and his doctorate level of knowledge in terms of plate discipline should have all baseball fans itching to see him in Washington.  

Aram Leighton did a great job breaking down James Wood’s talented profile in a recent article, and you can find that here

Dylan Crews (OF) – Just Baseball’s No. 13 Overall Prospect

Just Baseball’s No. 13 prospect is not one to scoff at either. Coming into the 2023 MLB Draft as one of the more polished college bats that we have seen in some time, Dylan Crews is one of the few players, let alone prospects, that can offer a team true five-tool upside on a day-to-day basis.

Not only is Wood close, but his org-mate Crews was recently promoted to Triple-A, where they are now roaming the outfield together. Crews’s promotion may have come as a surprise to some, given how his 2024 season began, but as of late, Crews has looked to have settled in nicely and will now be able to carry that over to Rochester and prove himself at the next level.

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While his exit velocities might be what stood out to many when he came out of LSU, just like Wood, Crews has great bat control through the zone and easy power to all fields. Just on the data alone from the 2024 season, Crews was finding his most success while hitting the ball 46.8% of the time to the opposite field and evenly splitting pull-side and up the middle at 26.5%.

The one thing we have yet to see translate over to the professional level from college is his chase rate. Coming out of LSU, Crews had a chase rate under 15% and nearly double the amount of walks to strikeouts.

While he may need a little more refinement, seeing Crews in the Nationals outfield later into the 2024 season would not be a surprise.

Overall, the Nationals have found themselves in a great spot with James Wood and Dylan Crews. Going forward, both of them are going to provide the team with the rare high ceiling/high floor combination that will help propel them back to their winning ways.

Will the Young Guys Be Enough?

As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, the Nationals do have a strong nucleus of talented young players at the MLB level.

They have a pitching rotation led by breakout stud MacKenzie Gore. What he has done needs to be broken down far more on its own, just to give him his flowers. All of his underlying numbers look even better than what is solely on the surface.

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The biggest reason for his success this year has been his ability to suppress the home runs he gave up at over an 18% HR/FB mark last season. Cutting down his walk rate by almost 3%, while upping his K-rate by more than 2%, also helps.

Aside from Gore, Mitchell Parker and DJ Herz have also flashed the potential to be strong mid-rotation options for the club going forward.

Let us also not forget Josiah Gray, another above-average mid-rotation option. He is currently rehabbing down in the minor leagues and should be back around the All-Star Break.

Then, you round out the rotation with a wily vet in Trevor Williams (when he returns from the IL), and, while the experience may not be there, the talent could surely have the Nationals mentioned in the top half of pitching rotations in the majors.

As for the offense, CJ Abrams is no slouch. After being rushed through the minors to try and fill a void for the Padres after Fernando Tatis Jr. went down with his injury, it seems as if Abrams has finally been able to settle in at the MLB level after a baptism by fire.

He possesses game-changing speed, and, apparently, 15-home run potential, as demonstrated by his power surge early this year. He can headline the starting lineup for a playoff contender.

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Another prospect I did not mention earlier is the forgotten man, Brady House. While he was drafted as a shortstop, he has been transitioning over to third base while he works through the minor leagues, and looks to be the third baseman of the future for the Nationals.

Mixed in among all of the young, talented players in the organization are capable big leaguers like Lane Thomas, who is always undervalued; Jesse Winker, who has looked resurgent in this Nats lineup; and, while he has not lived up to expectations this season, Keibert Ruiz could still be an asset to this team going forward.

The 2024 Washington Nationals are not the team we thought they would be. In fact, they could be considered the polar opposite. Here we are nearing the start of July, and they are contending for a Wild Card spot. No one would have, nor could they have, guessed that.

With all that being said, it would be tough to consider the Nationals serious contenders. That’s not because I do not believe in the young guys they have in their organization, but because a run to the postseason in the second half of the year requires experience, more often than not. That is what this team is currently lacking.

Now, if the front office were to fully invest in this roster and acquire more veterans with that experience, I would not be surprised come the end of the season if the Nationals are pushing for the final Wild Card spot.