Hangovers get the best of everyone from time to time. Age is not your friend when throwing back one too many. The same could likely be said of World Series hangovers, which can bite even young teams but are especially exhausting for pitching staffs built around aging aces. Stephen Strasburg threw all of five innings in 2020 after signing a contract for $245 million across seven years. I’m still a few Scrubs episodes from finishing my medical degree, but Carpal Tunnel Neuritis in the right wrist sounds like an awful diagnosis for a 32-year-old right handed pitcher. Stras underwent surgery in late August and could be ready to go in Spring, but it’s looking like the team should’ve chosen Anthony Rendon over Strasburg rather than offering each the same deal and rolling with whoever signed first, if that widespread reporting was accurate.
Whatever the future holds–and it doesn’t look bright in these minors today–2019 was worth it. Perhaps characterizing their 2020 as a hangover is a bridge too far, especially in a year when most of us wake up wishing we could sleep it off, but it’s an easy leap to make given the strength of will and perseverance it took to vanquish the OP-cheat-code Astros. Thanks, Washington! And it’s not all bad by any means. If their last couple first-round picks pan out, we could see Soto and the boys back in the big games very soon.
Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2021 | Highest level played | ETA
1. RHP Cade Cavali | 22 | NCAA | 2022
The 22nd overall pick in the 2020 draft, Cavali looks like a linebacker and works with pace on the mound, an intimidating combo when paired with his high-fastball proficiency and nasty pair of breakers, one a high 80’s slider and the other a decent curveball. As a fun bonus, Cavali has always been a good hitter, posting a .319/.393/.611 line in 84 plate appearances as a sophomore. Natural athleticism and physicality give him more upside on the mound than teams can typically find that late in the first round.
2. RHP Jackson Rutledge | 22 | A | Late 2021
Rutledge dominated the South Atlantic League after being drafted 17th overall in 2019 (0.91 WHIP across 27.1 innings), where he was 1.8 years younger than the average age of his competitors. At 6’8” with a short arm action, Rutledge will have to work to keep his upper and lower halves in sync, but if he can figure that out and find his command, his fastball, slider and curveball are all good enough to thrive.
3. OF Leandro Emiliani | 21 | R | 2024
My favorite player in this system in terms of perceived value v. potential profit, Emiliani features present strength and plus patience that blossomed in his return trip to the Gulf Coast League in 2019. His 175 wRC+ has to be discounted a little because of the repeat, but he can pour some rocket fuel in his stock if he starts hot in full season ball this year. He’s a little old for his level at the moment due in part to the pandemic, but he could climb quickly in 2021 if the organization wants to challenge him. If you squint while he’s in the batter’s box, you can see shades of a young(er) Juan Soto, and I’ll certainly sign up to see how that plays out.
4. OF Jeremy De La Rosa | 19 | R | 2025
The Nationals sent Jeremy De La Rosa straight to the Gulf Coast League in 2019, where he was 2.4 years younger than the average player but posted a 108 wRC+. A plus athlete with a quick swing from the left side, De La Rosa has enticing topside and an excellent chance to bounce up the prospect lists as his body continues to develop. He’s already picked up some name value in dynasty circles, so a fast start in 2021 could bounce him into some top 100s.
5. SS Viandel Peña | 20 | R | 2025
In 2019, Peña aced the Gulf Coast League (.359/.455/.481) despite playing against guys who were 1.4 years older than him on average. He’s just 5’8”, but small is the new big in baseball. Pena brings the kind compact swing and strike zone discernment required to succeed at his size, and he’s also got enough quick-twitch athleticism to be a fun follow.
6. LHP Seth Romero | 24 | MLB | 2020
His first few games in the big leagues did not go beautifully, as his 13.50 ERA and 3.00 WHIP can attest, but it was just 2.2 innings, and Romero hadn’t pitched since tossing 25.1 innings in A ball in 2018. I’m not super confident in his ability to find the strike zone, but his stuff is good, featuring a plus fastball and plus slider from a tough angle. The 25th overall pick in 2017 despite some character concerns that forced a college transfer, Romero is the club’s best chance to find a 2021 impact prospect in its system.
7. LHP Matt Cronin | 23 | A | Early 2021
Matt Cronin is the all-time saves leader in Arkansas college baseball history and hit the ground running after being picked in the fourth round this summer. His 48.2% K-rate in 22 A-ball innings provides a good look at how tough the three-pitch lefty with a double plus fastball can be on professional hitters. The lefty closer stigma is all but behind us now with bullpen roles becoming more fluid in general, and Cronin has an inside lane toward becoming a final-out factor as soon as 2021.
8. 1B Drew Mendoza | 23 | A | 2022
Mendoza is all of the 6’5” 230 lbs he’s listed at and probably weighs a bit more than that today. Raw power is not a problem here, and so far, neither is patience, as evidenced by his 14.2 percent walk rate across 239 plate appearances in A ball. He was sent straight there after being selected in the third round in 2019 and posted a 128 wRC+. I’ve seen some prospectors already buying the big man, but I’d like to see how his patience holds up against elite spin. His 23.8 percent strikeout rate in that South Atlantic League sample is impressive, and if he can carry rates like these up the minor league ladder, he’ll make some noise on a club that’s currently barren at the corners and could move more quickly than the 2022 timeline I’ve speculated for him here.
9. OF Roismar Quintana | 19 | NA | 2025
Roismar Quintana is not huge like Jasson Dominguez, but he is football-player-big for a teenager. Like Dominguez, Quintana carries the weight well so far and figures to hit for power even early in his career. He’s a long, long way away, but as they did with De La Rosa, Washington tends to slow roll their international signees and then drop them right into a stateside setting, bypassing the Dominican summer leagues that are so often the landing spot for these types of prospects. It’s an interesting strategy in that those players would likely get a pass if they struggle and a big bounce if they thrive. I’m betting Quintana doesn’t play until midsummer in 2021 but hits well enough to find some hype when he does finally make his pro debut.
10. LHP Ben Braymer | 26 | MLB | 2020
20-year-old, switch-hitting 3B Yasel Antuna would fit here, as would high upside teenage RHPs Andry Lara and Eddy Yean, but I’ll use this space to send some shine to 2021 rotation hopeful Ben Braymer, a control and command lefty who dominated the minors for all of 2018 and half of 2019 until he ran into the AAA juiced ball wall that flummoxed so many of his finesse-focused compatriots. Braymer employs a classic fastball, curveball, changeup combination, and when he’s right, rarely misses a spot. I think he’ll tinker and learn and work his way into a role on the 2021 club and could wind up much, much better in the long term than anyone would project for him at this juncture.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.