There are some prospects who have impressed in their limited opportunities via appearances during big league camp. The sample sizes are small as you would expect, and many of the minor leaguers have not had to face an ace like Framber Valdez as was James Wood‘s task last week. Every situation is unique in these glimpses we get; however, much credit to those who have flashed some brilliance in their limited opportunities. Some of those players are not from the top of the prospect charts except for Elijah Green.
That list of top prospect performers in big league camp in no particular order would have Green who is rated №3 on Baseball America‘s Top-30 rankings of the Nats’ farm as well as Trey Lipscomb, Daylen Lile, Darren Baker, Jake Alu, Jake Irvin, and Jackson Rutledge at the tops of our rankings. What’s interesting is that Alu and Irvin were showing well as 40-man roster players in camp, but both were cut in what seemed to be premature since they were both standouts. Alu has not been seen since March 4. Players like Lipscomb, Lile, and Baker have come up with hits at times to impact some games.
“He’s a collector of hits,” De Jon Watson, VP of Player Development said on 106.7 The Fan radio in an interview with Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler. “Both sides of the game have really matured for him. … When you put him in the batter’s box, good things happen for him.”
Watson also made special mention of how Baker has emerged as somewhat of a leader on the minor league side of camp.
Given Lile’s age, 20, and his absence from baseball last year due to his elbow injury, his spring training success would top my list. He has also faced the toughest of the opponent pitchers versus his peer group at a 6.6 ranking. Lile also turned in a Web Gem on defense and is batting .625 with the ability to spray the ball to all fields. Baker’s stats are gawdy with that grand slam over the weekend, and he keeps proving that he can handle the situation. Lipscomb just keeps producing and has a homer himself that didn’t get help up in the jet stream. But Lipscomb has also faced the lowest pitcher’s rankings in the peer group at 4.9. The key here is try to get Lipscomb some ABs against some better pitching to really see what he can do against advanced pitching. He has walked in one-third of his plate appearances and has not tried to force a swing. That shows maturity for a player who doesn’t even have one full year of pro ball.
“I like him a lot,” manager Dave Martinez said to reporters about Lipscomb. “You don’t see him chase much, which is really good for a young hitter. And he moves the baseball. He’s got a two-strike approach. He handles himself really well. … Nothing seems to rattle him. He’s kind of a quiet kid. He understands what he wants to do, and he goes out there and performs.”
Lipscomb, who grew up in the Urbana area of Frederick County, Maryland just miles from Wood in neighboring Montgomery County where the two work-out together in the offseason in Gaithersburg, Maryland with hitting guru Gerardo “Coach G” Caceres. While Lipscomb went the college route to Tennessee, and was drafted in the third round last year, Wood went to pro ball straight from the prestigious IMG Academy via the MLB Draft and was a top draft prospect. So many of these young men in camp have formed quick bonds that go deep based on shared geography, travel teams, high school, and even previous team affiliations. Now they are all minor league teammates together. The Nats’ development system is doing a good job with giving each a clear path to start at their minor league levels with a few preemptive position changes.
“Who’s going to be the primary guy? … We are really trying to manage all of the at-bats,” Watson said. “With all of the outfielders we have at the A-ball levels we’re going to carry five at Fredericksburg and four in Wilmington, and all these guys can play. T.J. White is that extra outfielder if we want to use him there but really trying to focus him at first base. Again, managing the at-bats and making sure everybody is getting an equal opportunity to grow and learn. Because that number one player — that first pick in the draft, and he may be the 40th player or 20th player [due to a logjam] on that roster and that could be that guy who is really the dude, and so we have to make sure we get him the reps.”
If we played the game of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon using Wood as the central figure, it would start with the trade that brought him to the Nationals with top prospects Jarlin Susana, Robert Hassell III, and former first rounders MacKenzie Gore and CJ Abrams. Also, Wood was high school teammates with Green at IMG, and Green played with T.J. White in travel ball and against Brady House on travel teams. You see the dots connecting with Wood and so many of the players. In all of baseball, Wood is a Top-10 prospect and №1 on all Nats’ rankings. Don’t be concerned that Wood is 0-4 in limited at-bats with three strikeouts. In fact, Watson says he’s on the bubble in where he starts this year in either Wilmington or Double-A Harrisburg.
Will we get to see any more of Alu and House in the Grapefruit League this year? Probably not on Alu. As we reported that Alu had an undisclosed injury after that March 4 game, the team had not said a word until Watson spoke last night and it kind of slipped out about Alu’s health.
“Talking of Jake Alu what a great player he is,” Watson said. “This guy just coming last year and was phenomenal for us. …. On both sides of the baseball, he played exceptional for us. I’m just looking forward for him getting healthy and getting back in the fight for an opportunity for the Major League level.”
We probably won’t get a first glimpse of Hassell in a big league camp this year as he was nursing some inflammation in his wrist that had kept him out of big league games up to this point. It sounds like Hassell will be getting ready for the Double-A season and possibly might spend an extra two weeks in extended spring training in West Palm Beach per Watson.
On the pitchers, Irvin has looked good with a blazing fastball and the same with Rutledge. Both showing upper 90’s on their heaters. The issue I had with Irvin was just seeing a two pitch mix of his fastball and one breaking pitch and nothing with a changeup which he supposedly throws. Rutledge has three scoreless innings over two appearances and looked electric out there.
This is good to see that Jackson Rutledge made this list with @BaseballAmerica
They wrote, “the 6-foot-8 righthander flashed enough in two big league outings this spring to lend belief that he might finally be turning the corner.”
— Talk Nats (@TalkNats) March 20, 2023
For other players, there is still an opportunity to show what they have, and many have stepped up and several in much small chances like Armando Cruz and Leandro Emiliani are some of the others who have made the most of their limited at-bats. Mostly, it would be good to see Wood and House get more reps before the Grapefruit League games end on Sunday.