The name on the front of the jersey belongs to a Minor League affiliate while the patch on their sleeves are emblazoned with the Curly W logo signifying that these players are part of the Washington Nationals organization. There are no names on the back of these jerseys, and just numbers that might as well be their Top-Prospect rankings in all of baseball. James Wood is going places and he is jersey No. 4. Robert Hassell III, No. 21, just needs to get that full feeling back after his hamate surgery late last year. Wood went bonkers on the Orioles’ Double-A pitchers this weekend for two booming homers, two doubles, and a lot of hope for the Nats’ future.
Just last week Wood was promoted to Double-A to join Hassell with the Harrisburg team. It took Wood just a few days to get acclimated before he went max power and put on a show. His 2023 OPS is a very strong .968 and one point higher than his career average.
“It hasn’t taken Wood long to get comfortable in Double-A. In his sixth game with Harrisburg, Wood doubled twice and homered for a three-hit day. The 20-year-old also homered on Friday and now has 10 home runs overall this year.”— J.J. Cooper wrote this morning in Baseball America
The 6’1″ Hassell III does not get all of the pub that Wood gets, and that is just fine for him. The 2020 first round draft pick of the San Diego Padres was the 8th overall pick that year, and he is working his way back to full strength. Hassell has been in the spotlight since he played in the Little League World Series as an 11U player 10 years ago. He came over in the Juan Soto blockbuster trade with Wood, CJ Abrams, MacKenzie Gore, and Jarlin Susana. With Hassell over a .700 OPS and waiting for his power to return, he is getting valuable work as the lead-off man on that Harrisburg team.
This could be two-thirds of next year’s starting outfield for the big league club with Lane Thomas in left field. If Hassell gets hot this summer, maybe we see both of the top prospects as September call-ups. Who knows. Wood is trending that way, and it will be a tough decision for General Manager Mike Rizzo to make the move — sooner than later.
There is always that yearning from the fans to get the top prospects up sooner. It is like putting a shiny new car on your driveway for all of your neighbors to see. The question on that sizeable purchase always seems to go to timing. Do I buy now or wait for next year’s model to come out? The economics certainly come into play here. It is that tug of war between — need and want — when your team is in a rebuild. Do the Nats need Wood now? Probably not.
Behind Wood and Hassell, there are other top-prospects pushing. Jeremy De La Rosa is getting hot again, and he is in High-A just below the Harrisburg Double-A team. With De La Rosa is T.J. White who is just 19 years old. Playing in a pitcher’s park in Wilmington will deflate your numbers. It makes the decision that much harder to promote players.
Below Wilmington, there is Brady House, Elijah Green, Armando Cruz, and Daylen Lile from that top prospects list with Single-A Fredericksburg. House has certainly made a case for a promotion while Green and Cruz have had their ups-and-downs. Cruz has had two clutch walk-off hits in the past week, and Green has chopped down on his K rate which was inching alarmingly closer to 50 percent. Green was last year’s number one pick on the team and 5th overall in the draft. He was a draft pick tagged as high risk and high reward. Green hit a 436 foot home run that literally left Virginia Credit Union Stadium and landed in the forest behind the stadium. The team said that was a first. He has the tools if he can just cut-down on the strikeouts. House hits home runs too, and at a higher rate, and it isn’t about distance rather repetition — and that has led to an impressive .925 OPS.
Well, LHP Jake Bennett just got his promotion to High-A after dominating with Fredericksburg. His ERA stayed at a minscule 1.93 and a WHIP of 1.000. One of the most impressive pitchers, and he could pair up with 24 year old lefty Dustin Saenz if he isn’t promoted tomorrow — and he should be.
The pitchers in the system are showing more promise led by Cade Cavalli, a Top-100 prospect, who is out for the season with UCL surgery. Next closest to a callup seems to be Jackson Rutledge unless the team goes with Joan Adon. Rutledge is pitching very well in Double-A and Adon has shown a little more in Triple-A. The pipeline of pitchers finally looks promising for the first time in years. Looking at the farm system, the one thing missing is the lack of a great changeup being taught to these youngsters. The Nats haven’t promoted a pitcher with a great changeup since 2010 with Stephen Strasburg — and he came to the Nats from college with that pitch.
In just 34 days, the Nats should be calling the name of either Paul Skenes or Dylan Crews as their next superstar player via the MLB Draft where the Nats hold a golden ticket thanks to their 2022 tanking efforts. These two players are so impressive that Kiley McDaniel of ESPN has already seeded both of them into his Top-20 top prospects. Check this out:
The Pirates choose ahead of the Nats with the №1 pick in the 2023 draft so expect the Nats to choose whomever the Pirates don’t choose from Skenes or Crews.
“I try not to look at those [mock draft rankings], and I think as long as I keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing over the new few weeks, everything will just land as it should.”— Paul Skenes to Ben Belford-Peltzman of TalkNats
Also, both the Pirates and Nats should be going into the offseason with Top-5 farm systems overall.
“I think it would be awesome [to be drafted by the Nationals]. I guess whatever happens, happens. I have no control over [which team drafts me]. I have control over my process each and every day, and being present every single day. If that were to happen — if that were to be where I end up in the future — that would be awesome. I think it’s a great organization.”
“… I think [Washington D.C.] would be a really cool place to be.”— Dylan Crews to Ben Belford-Peltzman of TalkNats
Today begins the Florida Complex League (FCL) and Dominican Summer League (DSL) play. The Nats key name to keep an eye on is Cristhian Vaquero who is the final Top-10 name for us to mention, and there are certainly others on this link. There are plenty of other names vying for that Top-15 status, and Cole Henry has made a spectacular return from TOS surgery. Another name to keep an eye on is Lile who is an outfielder with an impressive hit tool. Here is the MLB Pipeline Top-30. There will be a lot of movement after the draft and expect a few names to push out of the Top-10 and a few new ones added. That is how it works as cruel as it might seem — it is a production business. Produce or perish.
There is legitimate talent on this big league roster to continue moving forward, and this offseason could be the first time in years that the Nats expand their payroll with a blue chip player and a 9-figure payday. The Nats were at this point after the 2010 season when they paid free agent Jayson Werth well over his perceived market value at the time.
“Signing Max Scherzer is good news. A commitment of that stature signals the organization is committed to winning long-term and makes me proud to be a Nat.”
“I look forward to … seeing the vision that brought me to D.C. through. I am excited and will continue to work hard and not rest until this group brings home a championship.”— Jayson Werth said that back in 2015 after Max Scherzer signed the largest pitcher’s contract in MLB history at the time
The glimpse into the future is getting clearer. Within seven months, you will have a real sense of the direction of the team. Get excited because this bumpy road is ready for some shiny new cars.