- The Washington Times
Wednesday, August 17, 2022

When the Washington Nationals selected Elijah Green with the fifth pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, it was expected that he would become the team’s new No. 1 prospect.

The Nationals entered the draft with one of the worst farm systems in the league, and Green — an 18-year-old outfielder from Florida — was considered by many evaluators to be the highest-upside player in the class. The Nationals certainly thought so. 

“This guy could be an impactful superstar,” said Kris Kline, Nationals vice president of scouting operations. 

But exactly a month after the Nationals selected Green, he’s not the organization’s top prospect. MLB Pipeline on Wednesday released its midseason Top 100 list, and Green is listed as the club’s No. 2 prospect behind one of the five youngsters the Nationals got in return for Juan Soto.

Robert Hassell III, a 21-year-old outfielder who was one of the main pieces of the Soto trade, remained as Washington’s top prospect after MLB Pipeline’s update that shifted some players around and added Green and the rest of the draft selections from July.

Hassell, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 draft, has hit .296 in Class A ball the last two seasons and has 57 stolen bases versus only nine caught stealings. The Nationals started him off in High Single-A Wilmington for 10 games and on Tuesday promoted him to Double-A Harrisburg. 

While Hassell is the team’s top youngster on multiple prospect lists, it’s not as if there’s a large gap between him and the few players behind him. Four Nationals now appear on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list — double the number from before the Soto trade — with all four inside the top 60.

“We’ve got some good stuff going on,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I’m pretty excited about what’s happening.”

Hassell is ranked No. 23, up 14 spots from before the season. Green, who has a .914 on-base plus slugging in his first seven games in rookie ball, is close behind at No. 29. And so is outfielder James Wood (No. 35), a 6-foot-7 Single-A outfielder who Washington also received in exchange for Soto. 

The final Nationals player on the top 100 list is right-handed pitcher Cade Cavalli at No. 58. Cavalli, a first-round pick in 2020, was Washington’s top prospect entering the season, and he’s spent the whole year so far at Triple-A. Shortstop Brady House, who entered the year as MLB Pipeline’s No. 49 prospect, fell off the list after getting injured in June. 

General manager Mike Rizzo told “The Sports Junkies” on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday morning that Cavalli, who struck out 11 for Triple-A Rochester on Saturday, wasn’t ready to be called up yet. Cavalli, 24, struggled to start the season, but he’s been dominant since July, posting a 1.42 earned-run average in his last 31 2/3 innings with 35 strikeouts. 

“He’s just scratching the surface,” Rizzo said. “He’s going to be a good big league pitcher for us. I’m excited to see him when he gets here. When the reports are that he’s ready to come to the big leagues, we certainly will not hesitate to bring him here.”

Both Rizzo and Martinez said Cavalli’s changeup is a pitch that has improved this summer. But for the Nationals’ skipper, who has seen his team’s starter pitchers struggle more than almost any other rotation in the majors, it’s “always about consistency.”

“He’s starting to get it,” Martinez said about Cavalli. “He’s starting to throw a lot more strikes than balls. And he’s throwing a lot more changeups now, and his breaking ball is landing for strikes.”

And while they’re no longer considered prospects due to their service time, the Nationals are still treating shortstop CJ Abrams and starting pitcher MacKenzie Gore like prospects. 

Martinez wants to “take it slow” with the two youngsters they also got back from San Diego in the Soto blockbuster. Abrams made his Nationals debut Monday, and Martinez said he doesn’t want to put extra “pressure” on the 21-year-old. For Gore, the southpaw is still rehabbing an injury from July. Martinez said Wednesday that Gore, 23, has been stretched out to 120 feet and could throw a “light bullpen” in the next week. 

While the Nationals are far from competing on the field — their 3-2 loss to the Cubs Wednesday was the club’s MLB-worst 80th loss in 119 tries — the deeper farm system could be a light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel. 

Abrams, Gore, Hassell, Green, Wood, Cavalli and House — four players from the Soto deal and the organization’s last three first-round selections — make up a group of youngsters that will determine how long the Nationals’ rebuild takes and if competing for another World Series is in the cards. 

“This reboot is based on good, talented, young core players who we are going to build around,” Rizzo said. “That’s our goal. It’s about the improvement of our good young players, who are going to be the nucleus of our next championship-caliber club.”

• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at jmeyer@washingtontimes.com.

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