One thing that is apparent when looking at the Washington Nationals’ depth chart for outfielders is that the organization has a problem. Fortunately, it is a good problem to have, as the Nationals have managed to build and maintain a solid crop of outfielders that may very well help the team as it approaches a pivotal point in its future.
The Nationals have built a solid reserve of outfielders at the major league level. This had had an effect on the minor league system as well, especially when considering that Brian Goodwin — a player that, on many other teams, may have had a case for an Opening Day roster spot—is currently playing at Triple-A Syracuse.
However, when looking down the farm system — but perhaps up at the prospect rankings — the logjam of outfield talent becomes more apparent. Former top pick Andrew Stevenson is off to a strong start at Double-A Harrisburg, and has flashed his impressive speed while showcasing the mix of defensive, contact, and on-base skills. The well-rounded Stevenson, however, is not regarded by most as the best prospect in the Nationals’ system. That title belongs to Victor Robles, the centerfielder who has gotten off to a strong start at High-A Potomac.
Robles began last season at Low-A Hagerstown before being promoted to Potomac, where he ultimately missed a few weeks due to wrist injury. Despite that setback, the outfielder ended the year with a .280/.376/.423 in 504 plate appearances across three levels, and got off to a strong start at Potomac before recently hitting the disabled list.
Once Robles returns, it will be worth watching whether he hits the hits the ground running and validates the assessments that back his status as the best prospect in the system. Below Robles, however, a pair of prospects are off to excellent starts.
At Hagerstown, Blake Perkins is showing himself to be a very capable centerfielder, while Juan Soto is off to an excellent start as the team’s primary right fielder. Perkins, the Nationals’ second-overall selection in the 2015 draft, is not only showing solid defense in centerfield, but has made significant strides at the plate. Meanwhile, Soto — whom the Nationals signed to a $1.5 million signing bonus in 2015 — is off to a strong start off his own, batting .400/.466/.554 over 73 plate appearances.
The fact that both Perkins and Soto are making strides on both sides of the ball improves the outlook among outfield prospects, but they are not the only players worth watching in the farm system. Some who have gotten off to slower starts, such as Telmito Agustin at Potomac, stand to improve, while fellow Potomac outfielder Rhett Wiseman is looking to build off of his solid early-season returns.
Given something that is even slightly close to the best-case scenario, it can be complicated to sort this situation. The Nationals clearly have solid group of outfield prospects—particularly for left field and center field—but a limited number of roster sports going forward. However, time has a way of sorting these issues out, and that should be the case for the Nationals.
Within the next few years, the Nationals will have some crucial decisions to make — Jayson Werth is a free agent at the end of this year, and Bryce Harper is expected to hit the market after the 2018 season. As I noted when the Nationals shifted traded of their top pitching prospects—including Lucas Giolito—to the White Sox in the Adam Eaton deal, the team has needed to plan ahead. With Werth and Harper due for free agency soon, it could put the onus on the farm system to produce talent that is either major league ready or close to arriving soon after those players depart.
Furthermore, one of the biggest factors to keep in mind is how active the Nationals are on the trade market. While it may seem that having to sort out where Robles and Stevenson play over the long run is a problem, remember that general manager Mike Rizzo has earned a reputation for being active on the trade front, meaning that the team’s outfield depth could be leveraged in a future trade. The fact is as well that some of these players — primarily Perkins and Soto, who playing their first full seasons — are years away from making it to Washington, so the Nationals could have years to plan for their arrivals.
It is important to keep in mind that certain factors can affect this circumstance over the long run, but for now it seems that the Nationals are well stocked with outfielder prospects. Given the circumstances surrounding their major league roster for the next two seasons, that depth could pay off at the major league level.Tags: Andrew Stevenson, Blake Perkins, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Juan Soto, Nationals, Nats, Rhett Wiseman, Telmito Agustin, Victor Robles, Washington Nationals