In Elijah Green, Nationals hope they have a player to ‘build your team around’

Nats hope Green is a player to ‘build your team around’ originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It’s going to take a while to see the effects at the major-league level, but the Nationals are slowly building a stable of young talent with superstar upside.

Washington drafted outfielder Elijah Green with the fifth overall pick out of IMG Academy (Fla.) on Sunday. The 18-year-old is built like a power hitter, runs like a leadoff man and plays the kind of defense that drops jaws on a regular basis. Nationals’ Assistant General Manager and Vice President of Scouting Operations Kris Kline believed he had the highest ceiling in the draft.

“You’re talking about a skill set that is potentially gonna hit in the middle of your order and be impactful,” Kline said on a Zoom call with reporters Sunday.

“There are very special players in this draft, but their skill sets aren’t the same. You had some really good-looking hitters but maybe they had some deficiencies in other aspects of their game. But Elijah has a chance to be a five-tool package at the major-league level. Five tools, and when I say five tools, I mean five above-average tools at the big-league level.”

In addition to Green, the Nationals have bolstered the lower ranks of their farm system with some well-regarded talent for their age group over the last year. They drafted highly touted prep shortstop Brady House, who just turned 19 in June, with the No. 11 overall pick in last summer’s draft. Then in January, they signed 17-year-old Cuban outfielder Cristhian Vaquero after he was ranked the second overall player in his international class.

They aren’t alone, either. Dominican shortstop Armando Cruz, the Nationals’ top international signing of the 2020-21 class, has started to find his footing in rookie ball. Outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa just earned a promotion to High-A Wilmington at 20 years old after a strong first half with Single-A Fredericksburg. Starter Mason Denaburg is finally healthy and showing some promise four years since being drafted 27th overall out of high school.

None of these players are going to reach the majors anytime soon. As such, they’re not yet pushing the needle much when it comes to farm system rankings. The Nationals entered the season at 26th out of 30 teams in Baseball America’s organization talent rankings. With a sparse amount of talent at Double-A and higher — not to mention the uncertainty that comes with projecting prospects as young as 18, or 19 years old — that spot is justified.

However, the Nationals are laying the foundation for a potential rise up those rankings in the next couple of years. Between Green, Vaquero and House, they will hope to develop them into everyday regulars at the major-league level. With any luck, one or two of them might turn out to be All-Stars. The Nationals will also almost certainly land a top pick in next year’s MLB Draft.

Prospects are fickle, and there are a number of factors that could alter the organization’s outlook. (Perhaps, say, a Juan Soto trade?) But after drafting Green on Sunday, the Nationals’ lower-level affiliates have some exciting talent to look forward to seeing.

“He has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order bat, a run producer and a guy [with] the character and ability that you build your team around,” Kline said. “He would be one of those types of players.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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