Spring Training storylines for the Nats’ Minor Leaguers

Of course you have minor league players in Spring Training trying to make the big league roster — or at the very least — impress the coaches like Joey Meneses did in 2022. While Meneses did not make the Opening Day roster in 2022, he impressed manager Dave Martinez enough that he got a callup mid-season and became an instant starter.

Some minor leaguers are in camp as Non-Roster Invitees (NRI), and some are on the 40-man roster having never made their MLB debut. For Robert Hassell III, he is one of many NRIs in camp. He is also one of the biggest storylines for the Washington Nationals’ minor leaguers. There are others too, of course.

Robert Hassell III

Some background, Hassell came over to the Nats in that blockbuster Juan Soto trade. He was the first ranked prospect ahead of James Wood by some evaluators at the time. But he came over to the Nats in a little funk. We later learned that he was playing through a partial fracture of his hamate bone as he could tolerate the pain. Like many hamate injuries, the pain gets to a point where it affects your game. We reported that Hassell had a hand/wrist injury and hamate surgery, and then he had an unrelated wrist injury in Spring Training last year. His season was up and down, and the Nats still sent him to the Arizona Fall League after the season. He gets an NRI to big league camp, and hopefully he can impress. In a podcast interview last year, Hassell spoke about the hamate injury:

“I think the hand was bothering me for half a year or so, and I do I think that affected my power … I think the power is going to surprise a lot of people [going forward]. I do.”

— Hassell said in that podcast

NatsJack: Due to injuries, I’m afraid Hassell resembles Carter Kieboom, but I hope he develops better.

Steve M: Thanks so much NatsJack. Always great to get your insights. You always had a way of finding a kid nobody knew much about because they weren’t in that Top-10 prospect rankings. Remember 10 years ago the the 10th best prospect is probably the equivalent to our 20th best prospect today.

NatsJack: Having not seen any of our top prospects in action — except for a few on-line minor league games last season, I need some serious face time before formulating my assessment. Getting to see Bryce Harper in his initial Fall Instructs games, as he competed with the likes of Nick Castellanos, I could see the difference between those two and everyone else. I’m hoping to see the same with our young position players this spring. As usual, my primary focus will be on unknown pitchers that show promise. It all starts in less than two weeks for me and if and when I see something positive or negative, I’ll let you know.

The Development System

Andrew L.: To me, I think the biggest MiLB storylines are the new development people, from the top and right down to the coaches and analytics people To see the farm system rankings slide from #7 to around #15 is not good at all.

Steve M.: Yes, promoting Eddie Longosz to run the development system was a gamble by GM Mike Rizzo. But, maybe Longosz is one of those young baseball geniuses, and this will payoff. He hired a really impressive staff of new coaches and especially hitting coaches, and I think creating a pitching rehab coach with Joel Hanrahan was a smart move.

Andrew L.: Results are a key here, and we have to see Hassell and Elijah Green and some others like TJ White move up. They were three biggest fallers of the Top-10 prospects from last year. Yes, White was a fringe prospect, but Hassell and Green were Top-100 overall players and they are out of everyone’s Top-100 lists.

Elijah Green

Don H.: Hassell and Green both have to show enough improvement to think they are 2025 options.

Steve M: Certainly on Hassell would be on track for that. At best I was thinking end of 2025 for Green or 2026. He was the team’s top draft pick in 2022 at No. 5 overall.

His K rate went over 40 percent in Single-A, and then he mysteriously disappeared at the end of June without going on leave or the IL. One of our writers noticed he was not in the dugout. It went from strange to the bizarre because after a few weeks without Green in the lineup the team finally put him on the IL. We were told it was a minor wrist injury. Why wasn’t he put on the IL right away then? Green returned to play in the Florida Complex League for eight games and dominated. He went back to Single-A Fredericksburg for 17 games and struck out two-or-more times per game in 12 of those games while slashing .161/.288/.226 with a .514 OPS in those final 15 games. To me, this is the kid to watch.

Andrew L.: I knew it was bad. I didn’t know it was that bad. As you said, he crushed it in the FCL upon his return for those eight games. This will be on the player development staff to get him back on track. Can they do it?

Don H.: On the other side, how’s about the year that Brady House had in the Minor Leagues. Good to see him progress and shoot up the prospect rankings.

Brady House

Steve M.: Yes, storylines can be good news. House was the team’s top draft pick in the 1st round of 2021. You have to love that House is in everyone’s Top-100 list from the 40’s to the 50’s, after many dropped him after his injury in 2022. He could be up by mid-season if he crushes it in Double-A. He will be another NRI in camp.

Don H.: House is my projector ST star and is the prospect I am paying the closest attention to. Another thought on House. I don’t care if he can’t play full time due to whatever the issue is. If he can play 4/5 games a week, Nick Senzel or Ildemaro Vargas can cover the others. Whatever the issue is, I don’t see being in the majors makes it worse. In fact, the opposite is likely true.

Andrew L.: I could see House being up in 2024. He has a smooth swing and almost effortless. I’ve watched him for two years now, and he goes with any pitch. He takes balls to the opposite field with ease, and his pull-power just has that backspin to get those balls over the fences.

Jackson Rutledge

Don H.: Rutledge impressing would be a great storyline. But he is likely scheduled for the Rochester-DC shuttle.

Steve M.: Right now, I agree. His last couple of starts showed promise, and if everyone is healthy, I think he is either the 6th or 7th starter and will begin his season in Triple-A Rochester. With Cade Cavalli out until June/July it could be Rutledge’s shot as the next guy up.

Andrew L.: Don’t forget about DJ Herz.

DJ Herz

Steve M.: Trust me, I did not forget about Herz. He was the jewel of the Jeimer Candelario at last year’s trade deadline and as a new 40-man roster player, he could get his chance. The question isn’t his stuff — it is whether he has enough stuff, if that makes sense.

Andrew L.: Can you explain that?

Steve M.: Herz, a lefty pitcher, has the best changeup in the Nats entire system. He has a good fastball too. That would make him what I call a lefty version of Tyler Clippard. Remember, Clip was once nicknamed the “Yankee Clippard” and a top pitching prospect with New York — but he couldn’t develop a good breaking ball, and he was traded to the Nats and was a great reliever for the team. So if Herz can develop a good breaking pitch — I could see him as a starter. If not, then I think we get him as a reliever.

Don H.: That is a good analysis when you put it that way. I do believe that Herz will also be on the Rochester-DC shuttle. Either he or Rutledge are going to be the first guys to go to when another pitcher is needed. Which one is picked will likely depend on who the expected opponents are.

The Two Top Prospects — Dylan Crews and James Wood

Steve M.: So here we go, will either Dylan Crews or James Wood, two Top-15 prospects in all of baseball, have the chance of making the Opening Day roster? This is kind of what everyone wants to know.

Sao Magnifico: It’s so hard to get enthused about this spring though given how little Mike Rizzo has done this winter and how low my confidence is that any top prospect will make the Opening Day roster.

Don H.: Sure, but the first couple weeks of ST will be key. If I’m Rizzo (and clearly I’m not), I am interested in what Crews/Wood still need to work on, and which coach/level is the best fit.

Dan Holmi: I honestly don’t think either one will have a chance of making the opening day roster. I think they’ll have a good camp, but get sent down. I don’t think we’ve seen a large enough sample size to see if they’re MLB ready. I could see a call-up later in the season. Or if a player gets injured I could see a call up. If they impress they might get a longer look.

Steve M.: Dan, that is certainly the way it will probably go. But there is always a small chance given the new rules on service-time-manipulation that star prospects make the team on Opening Day. By the way, for those who don’t know you, you’re the guy behind the mic on the TalkNats Podcast. Here’s a link for people to find you.

Yohandy Morales

Steve M.: I will be interested to see what position he plays. If House isn’t moved which is doubtful, you would think YoYo’s future is first base.

Don H.: Yes, that will definitely be interesting. If he excels to the point where he could be ready later in the year, that makes trades including Joey Gallo and Joey Meneses (subject, of course, to how well they have played) perhaps more likely.

Players that fell in the rankings

Steve M.: I was having a conversation with Todd Boss at Nationals Arm Race about players who were injured like Jake Bennett (UCL) and Cole Henry (TOS), and Henry’s road back is very much in question because of the unknowns with TOS. Obviously we know Stephen Strasburg is done with baseball after his bout with TOS. So Henry dropped down on my prospect rankings; however I will gladly adjust that when he shows he is back to form. Todd brought up some players that fell off the cliff like pitcher Aldo Ramirez who was a Top-15 after he was traded for Kyle Schwarber, and then Todd also mentioned Jordy Barley who seemingly fell off. I guess we could add Jeremy De La Rosa to that list too, and already mentioned was T.J. White. Few make it back, but I think White has a good shot. That is a good segue to who we think will be a breakout player or a player that fans should know.

Breakout Player or a Player the fans should know

NationalsSource: Maxwell Romero to step up as the 3rd catcher in line. And idk about a breakout but Nathaniel Ochoa Leyva is gonna be a fun name to watch at the lower levels.

Steve M.: I have Cristhian Vaquero to shine this year. His tools are there to be a breakout player.

NationalsSource: They certainly are…. Just gotta show a little power.

Steve M.: Daylen Lile and Victor Hurtado are two others that I could see become more familiar names with the fans.

NationalsSource: I’m really interested in Lile…. He is another one that if he shows more power could sky rocket in prospect rankings

Steve M.: Who can move into that Top-100? I guess we will see here soon!

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