Spring Training Game #8 features all but one Top-10 positional prospect!

The bus trip, for the Washington Nationals, to Ft. Myers to face the Red Sox in a Grapefruit League game is the longest of the road trips this year. This one is 120+ miles from the Atlantic Ocean coast to the Gulf Coast via US-98 to FL-80 going east to west. Teams are required to send at least four starters on these road trips, and manager Dave Martinez loosely satisfied that rule with Josiah Gray starting along with Joey Meneses, Luis Garcia Jr., and Alex Call. But the star power in this game is the top prospects.

The Nats’ manager has penciled in James Wood at DH and Dylan Crews CF into the starting lineup plus Jacob Young RF and Nasim Nunez SS. The speed in this lineup is like the heats in a qualifying race. Traveling with the team are Brady House, Robert Hassell III, Yohandy Morales, Daylen Lile, Trey Lipscomb and Elijah Green. The only positional prospect in the Top-10 that seems to be missing is Cristhian Vaquero. Maybe he was on the bus also.

Besides Call in this outfield, it is Young as the next highest MLB seniority of 33-games. He was actually in Harrisburg in August with Wood, Crews, House, and Hassell before his 4-game promotion to Triple-A Rochester to the Nationals, and then a sudden promotion to the big leagues on August 26 due to Stone Garrett‘s leg injury. In one season, Young traversed four new home ballparks in 2023 from Delaware to Pennsylvania to New York to Washington, D.C. plus his time in Spring Training in Florida, his home state. The four star hotels of MLB life did not get him comfortable. He is not a lock for the Opening Day lineup, and is kind enough to help his teammates who are also his competition.

“We’ve seen the highs and lows of minor league baseball together — especially guys like House, Trey, even Woody. I’ve played now three levels with them. So it’s been awesome. It’s just cool to see how much they’ve grown. Being the first one to get up [to the Major Leagues], I’m just trying to help them, and show them kind of the ropes and what to do and what not to do, and who to talk to. It’s been really fun and I can’t wait to see what they continue to do.”

“Trying to be as open as I can with the [prospects], and explain the things I found difficult when I was up here and what helped and just those types of things. And also still, getting with Lane and those guys and hearing what they got to say in going through their experiences. I mean, this is my first big league camp with all them, too. So just really kind of going through the ropes of that, learning from the older guys and then passing down whatever I learn from them.”

— Young on helping the top prospects in big league camp

Keep in mind that Young is still technically a prospect as he did not cross the threshold into rookie status. His Spring Training so far has been overshadowed by the bigger names, making it easy to forget that Young is batting .500 with an 1.100 OPS in his small sample size. His K% is at 10.0 percent which is great, and of course he has notched a stolen base.

In a conversation with the media, Young said that he is “just trying to be a sparkplug” on this team, or as I like to call it, a “havoc wreaker.” In one game, he took two extra bases to third base and then home on balls that maybe squirted 10 feet from the catcher. Young wasn’t credited with steals on those plays as he wasn’t initially running when the balls bounced in the dirt so wild pitches were assessed, but few would attempt to take the extra base. He has god-given elite speed with good baseball instincts. The Cardinals broadcasters made note that he has 80-speed — the highest rating you can have.

“He just plays the game the right way. Good ball reads, and scored on a ball that was 10 feet from the catcher. He’s a game-changer. That’s what he does. He can run — he plays good defense — he puts the bat on the ball. So I like what he does. For him to be able to play all three outfield positions is awesome.”

— Martinez said about Young

Camp is loaded with outfielders from Call, Victor Robles, Lane Thomas, Joey Gallo, Jesse Winker, Wood, Crews, and Hassell III. From that list, only Gallo and Thomas are locks for Opening Day, but most think, as Martinez noted, that Robles had the slight edge over Young for the starting job in center field. That was then, and this is now.

Looking at this with the best 26 go north, you would have to say Wood, Hassell, and Young have been the three best for Nats’ outfielders, statistically, with at least 10 at-bats. But even Wood’s team-leading 19 plate appearances is the equivalent of just four games of stats for a lead-off batter. And in all fairness, this isn’t an MLB in-season game with scouting reports, and facing the other team’s No. 1 pitchers and their bullpen specialists.

You can bet that in three weeks and a day from tomorrow, when the team heads to Washington, D.C., that we will have a much clearer view of who deserves a roster spot. As we move deeper into March, team will be paring back their big league roster with cuts, and starters will be going longer in games with most of the fool’s gold pitchers sent packing. Most of the pitchers will stop experimenting with grips and pitch types that didn’t work — and you will start to get their “A” game. “Let’s see if you can hit me now,” you’d hear a veteran say if a newbie got him early in camp. Some prospects will show they belong and force the team to put them on that Opening Day roster.

From yesterday’s game, we have Sao’s list of the good and bad. Jake Irvin in his second appearance of the spring looked awful. Yes, he is working on his secondary pitches, but again, we need to see progress. You don’t even want to show up on Sao’s “down list.”

Three up:
1. CJ Abrams
2. Alex Call
3. MacKenzie Gore

Three down:
1. Jake Irvin
2. Jordan Weems
3. Jacob Barnes

Abrams had a really good game and his manager was pleased with what he saw after the Nats’ shortstop smashed an oppo home run to start the game then stroked a single up the middle.

“He’s staying on the ball really well. His BP, he’s really been working on staying inside the baseball in batting practice. We know he can pull the ball, but that’s awesome. The home run was really nice, but the base hit up the middle to drive in a run was also really nice, too.”

— Martinez said about Abrams

The Nats have just played a week’s worth of games so far, and it seems like more than that. This 1:05 first pitch will be televised on Boston’s NESN network and available on MLB.TV and the MLB app.

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