Spring Training Game #4 — the kids against a real MLB pitcher

Can we overuse that photo? The Washington Nationals are starting Robert Hassell III, Dylan Crews, and James Wood today against RHP José Urquidy who has five seasons of MLB experience. Houston’s pitcher was in pro ball in 2015 when the Nats’ trio of prospects were playing 12-U travel ball. Okay, Hassell was in the Little League World Series, but you get the point. This will be a big test to see what these young men can do against a legit starter.

Just like Hassell, Crews, and Wood were positioned from left field to right field on that late August day last year in Harrisburg Double-A against Reading, they find themselves together again, and this time facing players with All-Star pedigrees like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker. There is history here because Bregman mentored Crews as an LSU alum and like Crews, the No. 2 overall pick in his draft class. By stature, they are similar, but by MLB experience, they are light years apart at this time and place.

“[Bregman] is a guy that I go to if I ever need any help or if I ever need to talk about something. Just, anything really, cause he’s been through it. He’s a guy that I go to — and he’s been in my shoes in every situation, so I’ll call him up — and we’ll just have a good conversation of what to expect. He’s just a great dude, and I’m really happy he’s in my corner.”

— Crews said to MLB.com

Here’s the thing, that Houston lineup is chock full of baseball history and while we can debate their first World Series win, the second one was earned. The Nats shocked the baseball world to defeat them in 2019, and a good thing that happened since Houston had not been fully outed as cheaters at that point. But whatever you think, they have backs of their baseball cards with numbers. The Nats really lack that. In 2011, they signed Jayson Werth to pair with Ryan Zimmerman in a lineup that needed true veteran leadership and that baseball history. Bregman is that guy for Houston. That seems to be Crews’s personality as a leader too. But you can’t lead until you have done it at the next level and have that history.

The Nats have players like CJ Abrams and Lane Thomas with some blips of good numbers — but baseball is about seeing it again and again to believe it — hence, show us the back of your baseball card. Thomas is kind of the guy right now, and Abrams is trying to be that guy too. Maybe it is by default because there is no Zim or Werth to run the clubhouse.

“The guys that we have in the lineup have done it before, big back-of-the-baseball-card kind of things. These guys have all done it [before], and we expect them to play up to their potential and not do more than we expect them to do — but play up to their potential. If they do that, we’re gonna score enough runs to supplement our good pitching, our good bullpen — and win a lot of games.”

— general manager Mike Rizzo said in 2019

Rizzo has long maintained that veteran players on down years return to their career norms like water that finds its level. That is a Rizzo-ism. He hasn’t said it for years because this roster has been a revolving door of veterans on very short-term deals.

Rizzo also likes to quote the trusty back of the baseball card for players to return to career averages. Well, farmers go through long droughts, and baseball cards fade if left out in the sun for too long. What will you get from Joey Gallo on essentially a one year deal, and Nick Senzel for a year, maybe two?

“We’re not going to block guys, but if we’re fortunate enough that we have this influx of [top prospects] knocking on the big league door, then that’ll be a good day for us here.”

— Rizzo said at the Winter Meetings

Okay, Rizzo promised he wasn’t going to block his prospects, and he certainly won’t do that with Gallo and Senzel — but he essentially did that with Victor Robles when he re-signed him to a one-year deal after declining his 2024 option. He is blocking Jacob Young right now. Don’t you want to know what Young has before Crews is ready to take over full-time next year? Not to worry about Thomas blocking anyone because the NL has a DH now, and maybe if you have too many great ones someone can play first base. Again, good problems to have if you have too many stars.

Yes, they all have to hit at this level. That will be the fight for maybe the last bench spot between Nasim Nunez and Carter Kieboom. A factoid from Don H., “Wood and Hassell both starting. Those two, as well as Nunez and Kieboom, are the only players to have appeared in the the prior 3 games. Kieboom and Nunez getting a close look makes sense — their 26 man roster spots are an issue. Wood and Hassell seem to be getting a lot of attention.”

So today, we get another glimpse into the future, and this lineup has all of the top prospects except Brady House who started yesterday. He got his first hit with a timely 2-run single in that game, and missed a home run on Sunday that got knocked down by the wind. That’s small sample size (SSS) results. Spring Training is a whole lot of SSS results that sometime can overshadow the process. You get a bloop hit and you’re batting .500 after four at-bats, who cares? Crews smoked a liner at 105 mph that was caught by an outfielder — that is what you need to focus on. These stats will never tell the full story — and by the way, in Spring Training you have to be concerned on the accuracy of the stats. Wood has two walks — not one. MLB screwed up the box scores almost as bad as the new lettering on the back of the uniforms that obviously some of the scorekeepers can’t read. That is W-O-O-D. The kid with two homers and a single so far in six at-bats, plus two walks — not one.

Let’s talk after today’s game on how our youngsters do against Urquidy. Also, Zach Davies will to pitch against four All-Star pedigree hitters today in the Astros lineup. Nothing like throwing the new guy to the wolves on his first day of work. If Davies pitches great, maybe we can talk about that too.

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