The Washington Nationals are off to a slow start without Bryce Harper, but these Minor Leaguers could provide a shot in the arm.
For the Washington Nationals, the first season without Bryce Harper was always going to feel like a let-down of sorts. The question was, just how much of a let-down would the franchise suffer without their biggest superstar? Many still pegged the Nats as a contender because their farm system has delivered more stars than just Harper, and ownership has never been shy about spending whatever it takes to field a winner.
With Anthony Rendon, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Victor Robles, Patrick Corbin, Sean Doolittle, Trea Turner and Juan Soto all on the roster, calling the Nats a threat to win the NL East despite the loss of Harper was not setting expectations unfairly high. This remains a very talented ballclub.
Despite all of the talent still assembled on the roster, the Nationals are off to a very slow start. They sit in fourth place in the division and have lost 12 of their last 18 games. The three aces at the top of the rotation — Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin — have all pitched well, but the back of the rotation and bullpen have been a disaster. Rendon and Turner are both on the injured list, and the Nationals are just ninth in the NL in runs. The team looks very underwhelming.
So much talent has come through the Nationals system since their move from Montreal, but the Minor Leagues are a bit tapped out on high-end talent (there’s no shame in this, as the Nats have graduated Victor Robles, Juan Soto and Trea Turner to the big leagues in recent years). Still, there are a few prospects in the Minor Leagues right now with the potential to impact the MLB club and help get the Nationals back on track. Here are five names to keep an eye on.
5. Drew Ward
Originally a third-round pick out of high school in Oklahoma, third baseman Drew Ward was moved through the Nationals farm system on an aggressive schedule that had him playing in Double-A during his age-21 season. Ward first reached that crucial level of Minor League ball in 2016, and his career has been stuck in neutral since as he has dealt with injuries and struggled to make the leap to the next level.
Ward had looked ready to break through after hitting .309/.391/.383 in the Arizona Fall League in 2016, but he went back to Double-A and hit just .235/.325/.356 in 2017. The Nats gave him another season with Harrisburg last year and Ward was able to begin re-establishing himself as a prospect. He is hitting .293/.352/.622 with 10 doubles, five home runs and 22 RBI in his first 23 games this year and could be fast-tracked up to the big leagues if the Nationals suffer an injury to a corner infielder.
With the power stroke finally coming around, Ward looks to have what it takes to provide some pop off the bench for the Nationals. He is a patient hitter who will take a walk if it presents itself. Ward’s raw power was tempered the past two seasons, but he is showing it again and will find his way to the big leagues very soon if it keeps up.