Jonathan Newton/WP Jonathan Newton/WP

For more than a year, the Nationals have behaved like a contending team. Before last season, they spent years rebuilding the farm system, stocking it with talent from the draft. The climb from the cellar of the Baseball America farm system rankings, known as the prospect bible, culminated with a brief No. 1 overall ranking last April. Then, the Nationals, on the brink on competing in the National League East, started trading away some prospects for the final pieces on the major league roster.

The constant ebb and flow of prospects has landed the Nationals’ farm system smack in the middle of the Baseball America’s new 2013 rankings released Wednesday morning. The Nationals’ minor league system is ranked No. 13, behind the Chicago Cubs and ahead of the San Diego Padres. The loaded St. Louis Cardinals finished atop the rankings, followed by the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are dead last. (If you’re wondering: the Philadelphia Phillies are No. 24 and Atlanta Braves are No. 26.)

Under General Manager Mike Rizzo, a former scout and scouting director, and the Lerner family, the Nationals dedicated themselves to spending in the draft like few others teams in the sport and it made a difference at the major league level. Six years ago, the Nationals ranked No. 30 in the prospects rankings. With a combination of good fortune, smart scouting and a willingness to spend a lot on signing bonuses, the Nationals drafted and signed top prospects Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin, Matt Purke and Sammy Solis — all before the new draft spending limits were put into place last year.

Last winter, Rizzo traded away four of the team’s best prospects to the Oakland Athletics for Gio Gonzalez. Then he traded away a top catching prospect, David Freitas, for catcher Kurt Suzuki in August. And this winter, he shipped away top pitching prospect Meyer for the leadoff hitter they long desired, Denard Span. Amazingly, Rizzo flipped Michael Morse with one year remaining on his contract for three minor leaguers, including A.J. Cole, the right-handed pitching prospect who was the centerpiece of Gonzalez trade with Oakland.

Because Harper has now reached the majors and Meyer is now with Minnesota, the Nationals’ rankings took a hit. But considering how the organization has behaved recently, 13th overall isn’t a bad spot to land. Last year’s revised rankings, after the Gonzalez trade, had the Nationals at No. 12 and in 2011 at No. 13.

The Nationals minor leagues are still stocked with talented infielders, catchers and outfielders. (Rendon was ranked the 30th best prospect.) The pitching ranks were thinned by trades but the addition of Cole helps, and the future lies with the recovery of injured prospects — Solis, Purke and last year’s top pick, Lucas Giolito.

Here are the publication’s updated top 10 Nationals prospects, with Cole at No. 4 after being re-acquired:

1. Anthony Rendon, 3B (30th overall)

2. Lucas Giolito, RHP (67th)

3. Brian Goodwin, OF (70th)

4. A.J. Cole, RHP

5. Matt Skole, 3B

6. Nate Karns, RHP

7. Christian Garcia, RHP

8. Eury Perez, OF

9. Sammy Solis, LHP

10. Matt Purke, LHP