Spring Training Game #5 with Dylan Crews in the OF

When news broke several weeks ago that Dylan Crews, James Wood, Brady House, and Robert Hassell III were all non-roster invites (NRI) to big league Spring Training camp — the negative vibes from an offseason that did not meet expectations turned positive. In an offseason that had almost nothing to cheer about except for the new LED lights and scoreboard at Nationals Park, the NRI list gave hope for the future.

When you cheer more for the off-the-field happenings, you know your team failed in improving their roster. The future is about these top prospects and developing more talent in the farm system and better drafts. Yesterday, to see the Top-4 position players all get hits and make exceptional plays along with home runs from Hassell and House — you know it was going to be a game you won’t soon forget.

“It’s pretty awesome. I feel very comfortable out there seeing Woody and Hassell both on my sides. I have full trust in all those guys. It’s pretty cool to see. Hopefully in the future, we’ll play many more games together.”

“I haven’t stopped thinking about it all. Looking around, you’re seeing All-Stars and big leaguers you’re usually playing with on ‘MLB: The Show’ (video game).”

“I was being a little kid early in Spring Training. Now I kind of have to remember, ‘I have a job to do.’ They’re just players — but they’re very special players. It’s pretty cool to be on the same field as all those guys.”

— Crews said after yesterday’s 10-3 win

Think of those words from Crews: “Hopefully in the future, we’ll play many more games together.” They were together last year in Double-A Harrisburg, and that was exciting for sure. But when will we see those three in MLB games that matter? First as general manager Mike Rizzo says, “You have to earn it.” Crews had crushed some balls for outs that kids in college would not reach — but in the big leagues — they get better jumps and run down balls that many minor leaguers cannot get. When Crews hit .426 in his junior year at LSU and .355 in his two weeks at Fredericksburg Single-A , those numbers translate fractionally.

Finally, Crews got a hustle double on a low liner that found outfield grass for his first hit in Spring Training. The other top prospects all have homers so far. There is a baseball adage that only fans catch home run balls. That is the value of power, and Crews is a high exit velo line drive hitter. The home runs will come. He doesn’t have the years of minor league time like the others, and the acclimation to pro ball takes time.

Today, Crews gets his second start in consecutive games, and his buddies should enter the game later as substitutes. On short-rest, Jackson Rutledge will get the start. He pitched two efficient innings in relief four days ago giving up no runs with one hit and one walk. For most, watching the players who have been in the system for years -or- the ones on those one-year deals — seen it and done it. Unless you are part of the solution — you are kind of part of the problem. But Rizzo added no long-term leadership and depth this offseason. Like last year when Jeimer Candelario was ‘fixed’, it only mattered in his trade value as his tenure lasted just four months. The same could happen again if a short-termer does well like Victor Robles, Joey Gallo, Nick Senzel, or Dylan Floro.

Okay, the team did swipe Nasim Nunez in the Rule-5 draft with six years of team control. His play on the field has been electric too. He rang a double in the corner in his first at-bat, and in his second at-bat scorched a liner that was caught.

Keep an eye on Richard Bleier in relief. He just missed an immaculate inning as the ump didn’t give him a strikeout on the edge — and he still K’d Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, and Alex Bregman in order for the best inning for Nats pitching. With reliever Mason Thompson out for the year with a UCL tear, his second since he suffered a similar injury in high school nearly nine years ago, the bullpen looks clear to have two open spots for competition. Bleier takes the lead so far with a long way to go.

You never know who will turn a head in camp, and starter Zach Davies faced a lineup of Astros starters and shut them down effectively even though he did a pitch-around walk of Alvarez. Davies K’d three batters in his 2.0 innings of no run work. Keep an eye on him if Rizzo has interest in sending the best five starters to Cincinnati for Opening Day. But once again, most of the focus is on the top prospects.

“We’ve been saying it that good things are going to happen. We really believe that. We’ve got talented young players that are hungry, that are really starting to understand who they are. I’m trying to give them opportunities to come up here and play a little bit, and they’re all doing really well. I’m excited about the future here. Things are looking bright.”

“[Crews] plays the game the right way. You saw today, a ball up the middle … double. He comes out of the box, runs hard.”

— manager Dave Martinez said

A year ago Crews was just a dream that the Nats could snag him in the draft, and Hassell was the team’s second ranked prospect per Baseball America and sandwiched between Wood and Elijah Green in those rankings. Now Hassell is turning heads with a bat that is loud, but he is out of BA’s Top-100 along with Green. While Hassell did not forget how to hit, most remember that he had hamate surgery in 2022 — but few remember that he had a subsequent wrist injury in early camp last year. Green also had a wrist injury, and had strikeout-itis last season at the lowest levels of the Nats’ minor league season. Green is in early prospect camp on the minor league side of the CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, and Hassell is enjoying his time to shine and prove the many doubters wrong.

“It feels great to get a swing off like that, but it’s low line drives, and trying to build off that. The guy that’s hitting them on the ground to the right side and really high up in the air on the left side — I’m not trying to be that guy. Just low liners everywhere, and that swing was a low liner. A top of the zone heater like that, I’ve got to get on top of it. That’s what I’ve been working on.”

— Hassell said after his homer yesterday

Not to be outdone, House obliterated a pitch from reliever Joel Kuhnel that went above the left-center gap and almost hit the concourse. It might have traveled further than Wood’s homer over the weekend. House is the youngster in that quartet of prospects at just 20. All four of them traveled in the same circles of travel ball, Team USA, and now they are all together. All of them had college commits with Crews being the only one who removed his name from his draft class — a decision that he said he will never regret to play at LSU.

Crews certainly has the fattest bank account after his signing bonus as the No. 2 overall draft pick. Even with each of their level of fame and money, they all are on the quiet side with Crews as the most extroverted personality. Each them spent valuable time bonding in Harrisburg Double-A last season. Each wants to be in Nationals Park, sooner than later.

“This is my first big league Spring Training, but to do it with these guys [is special]. I played most of last year with all of these guys. Getting to come here and do big league Spring Training with them, we’re all learning together and we’re all feeding off each other, that’s the best part.”

— House said

This game will be the first MASN telecast of Spring Training. Some would say it is about time. Monday’s game had no TV or radio coverage. This is on MLB for not making it a rule to have some form of video or audio broadcasting — even if it is just a stationary video camera set in the press box like the Miami Marlins have done. The technology is there to accomplish this for a small investment of a few hundred dollars. The fans deserve better.

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