Dynasty BaseballTriple Play

TDG’S Triple Play: Washington Nationals!

The Triple Play is back for a sixth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!

This week I (@barrington_phil) am joined by Drew Klein (@aok_fan) and Ben Sanders (@HPBenSanders) follow us on Twitter and send us any questions, feedback, disagreements, what have yous, in the comments.

CJ Abrams, Age: 22, Position: SS

Analysis by: Ben Sanders

Considerable Jump

CJ Abrams entered this season firmly in the post-hype category. His 2022 MLB debut was unimpressive all around, with a .604 OPS and just two home runs and seven stolen bases in 90 games. That’s not what anyone was hoping to see from an elite prospect lauded for his power and speed.

This season has been much better. Abrams is slashing .249/.301/.411 with 14 home runs and 34 steals. That line itself is interesting, but what’s more exciting is how much he’s improved over the course of the year. He took over the leadoff spot for the Nationals after the all-star break, and in the second half is hitting .258/.315/.436 with seven HR, 20 SB and 29 runs in just 41 games. That’s a full-season pace of just over 25 HR, 70 SB and 100 runs. Even with an unhelpful OBP and very few RBI, you’d take those numbers in the first couple rounds of a redraft.

Chasing Junk

Abrams’ second-half surge caught the attention of a few writers around the baseball world, and the biggest difference they noticed was in his approach. He’s a free swinger with a miniscule 3.2% career walk rate, but improved selectivity was driving his breakout. So I went to Fangraphs to compare his splits, but oddly the first half and second half plate discipline numbers were virtually identical. What happened?

Over the past two weeks, Abrams has regressed to his old aggressive ways, swinging at 50.5% of pitches outside the zone and striking out 21.8% of the time. For perspective, his season O-Swing% is 39.8% and the league average is 31.8%. During the previous month, he had dropped his O-Swing% to 35.2% and K-rate to 14.4%. All of this is a very small sample, but the takeaway is that what looked like a young player turning a corner may have just been some variance. On the bright side, his chase-prone ways haven’t slowed down his fantasy breakout – he has three homers and five steals in those past two weeks.

Career Just Starting

Abrams’ plate approach is concerning, but it’s worth keeping in mind just how little professional baseball he’s played. He was drafted in 2019, the pandemic took away the 2020 MiLB season, and a major leg injury robbed him of most of the 2021 campaign. The Padres then made a very aggressive move, putting him on their Opening Day roster in 2022 with just 348 plate appearances under his belt. Though he did go back to AAA for a stretch, he’s already had more time in the majors than the minors.

Abrams is 22, was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 draft, ranks above the 80th percentile in both max exit velocity and sprint speed, and has been a top-100 fantasy player so far this season. That profile feels like it should be generating more excitement. He’s criminally undervalued if you look at mid-season rankings, although those were largely compiled before his breakout. I suspect he’ll be ranked much higher this off-season. I’d feel comfortable taking him in the top 100 picks of a dynasty startup and trusting him to carry me in steals for a long time.

Josiah Gray, Age: 25, Position: SP

Analysis by: Phil Barrington

Go Josiah, you on fire

Gray was drafted out of Le Moyne College by the Reds in the 2nd round in the 2018 Draft; he only pitched 52.1 innings for the Reds before he was traded later that December, in a huge deal with the Dodgers that saw Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig end up in Cincinnati.

Once a part of the Dodgers system, Gray rose through the system quickly, and began the 2021 season at Triple-A. Gray graduated as a top-20 prospect in all of baseball, with a K/9 above 10 and a walk rate/9 under 2.75 (which has made him a target of mine for years, this season is the first that I’ve been able to acquire him for a reasonable price, more on that later).  With only 198 innings pitched at the minor league level (with a sparking 2.41 ERA and 0.93 WHIP), there were not many better pitching prospects. After only 15.2 innings at Triple-A, Gray made his big-league debut.

Jo(siah) Mama

A right shoulder injury kept him on the shelf until mid-July, and Gray made his big-league debut on July 20th against the Giants. He would only make one more appearance as a Dodger; on July 30th, 2021 he was traded along with catching prospect Keibert Ruiz and two other prospects to the Nationals for Trea Turner and Max Scherzer. We know the Dodgers grow pitching prospects better than any team, but did they see something they didn’t like in Gray, or did they want Turner and Mad Max that badly?

The Nationals started him the rest of the season, and over 12 starts Gray compiled a 5.31 ERA with a 9.05 strikeout rate and 4.02 walk rate. It wasn’t great for sure, but he had that pedigree, so the Nationals gave him 28 starts in 2022, and it wasn’t worse, but it wasn’t better. His 2022 stats included a 9.32 strikeout rate, 4.00 walk rate, and a stinky 5.02 ERA. The prospect shine was fading.

Jo(siah) Schmo

Gray had a great start to 2023, making 18 starts with a 3.41 ERA, even being named the Nationals representative in the All-Star Game. It wasn’t as good as it looked, with a 4.22 BB/9 and career low 8.25 K/9 and 4.78 FIP. Things didn’t get better after the break, and now, Gray has regressed in his walk rate (up to 4.64) and K/9 rate (down to a putrid 7.85).

I wanted to be as fresh with this write-up, so I waited until after Gray pitched Monday night at Toronto…and that start went about as expected. He gave up four runs on four hits and four walks over two innings; striking out only two. Over his past five starts he hasn’t made it out of the fourth inning in four of them. He’s gassed most likely, and should probably be put on the (Imaginary) IL for stomach pains or something similar. 2023 wasn’t all bad (just mostly bad) and there are some positive signs this season, a HR/9 of 1.18 when it was north of 2.30 his first two seasons; and a GB% up to 39.1%.

Hey Jo(siah)

Earlier this season I made a deal, acquiring Gray in a 16-team Dynasty for Red Sox Prospect Miguel Bleis; it is looking like a wash now, with Bleis having a terrible (71 wRC+) season at Single-A and Gray doing what we’ve already belabored. I don’t see Gray’s value being any lower than it is now. Apropos of nothing, this reminds me of a trade I pulled off, a 2nd for Lucas Giolito before he had his breakout season on the White Sox; a former top prospect made the leap.  Gray may cost a 2nd round pick (or even less) in a lot of leagues, and that juice is worth the squeeze, at least for one more season.

James Wood, Age: 20, Position: OF, Level: Double-A

Analysis by: Drew Klein

Well, Wood you look at that?

Don’t look now, but the Nationals are on the brink of being a fun team to watch.  They currently have MLB Pipeline’s 8th ranked farm system, highlighted by first round pick Dylan Crews, a healthy Brady House, and the untapped potential of Elijah Green, all ready to join youngsters CJ Abrams (I still believe) and Keibert Ruiz on the major league roster within a couple of years.  They won’t contend until they acquire more pitching and fill a couple other holes in the lineup, but they will be fun to watch.  Not yet mentioned is their high risk/very high reward outfield prospect, James Wood. (Let me be the one millionth person to say the Nationals really won that trade and we haven’t even seen if Jarlin Susana is going to blossom.)

The Man who Wood be King

Wood, a 6’7” outfielder, fell to the second round of the 2021 draft where he was selected by the Padres. Prior to his trade to the Nationals, he tore up the Complex League at the age of 18, with a .327/.465.535 slash line.  In 2022 he continued his hot hitting in Low-A batting .337 with a .601 slugging percentage before the trade.  After the trade his numbers dipped slightly the rest of that season, but he’s bounced back nicely in 2023. This year he was promoted from High-A to Double-A after 42 games and over both levels has a .252/345/.521 slash line with 24 total home runs.

Throughout his minor league career, he has shown power to all fields, in fact pulling the ball is a late addition to his game.  Since coming over to Washington, his pull percentage has risen from 35% to 44%, and his opposite field percentage dropped from 39% to 29%.  His fly ball percentage has risen from 28% to 40% over that time, whale ground ball percentage has dropped from 47% to 38% and infield fly percentage has dropped from 19% to 9%.  Also, he’s walking less and striking out more.

Wood I lie to you?

There are a lot of numbers in that last paragraph, but here’s the short version.  Since moving to Washington, he’s been trying to tap into the power by pulling more fly balls.  Some analysts are concerned about the lower contact rates, but the fact of the matter is that his fantasy value is going to come from his power complemented by his speed. Scouts have his hit tool grading out at 50, which might be just a bit low, and his projected game power at 70, which is extremely good.  I’m projecting a .250 average, 25 – 30 home runs with 20+ steals early in his career in a lineup that will be generating some offense.  This off season while everyone in your leagues is looking at the big-3 from the 2023 FYPD and the 3 Jacksons, see if you can swing a trade for James Wood, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.



The Author

Phil Barrington

Phil Barrington

Fantasy player since 1999, specializing in OPS leagues. Accountant by day, fantasy writer by night. Spreadsheets are life.

Previous post

TDG'S Triple Play: Atlanta Braves!

Next post

TDG'S Triple Play: Philadelphia Phillies!