Yes or No on James Wood, and top prospect news

The Washington Nationals have the best outfield prospects in all of baseball with Dylan Crews and James Wood who Baseball Prospectus ranked at №5 and №7 respectively of baseball’s best prospects. Add in Robert Hassell III, Jacob Young, and a few others into an outfield mix for one of the deepest prospect groups we have seen.

Now the big debate is whether Wood should be a starting outfielder on Opening Day for manager Dave Martinez. General Manager Mike Rizzo has to play the long game and think about the future. For Martinez, it is about winning NOW.

By the way, third baseman Brady House is ranked №69, and RHP Cade Cavalli at №85 by BP to round out all of the Nats’ top-100 prospects in all of baseball. Falling off the list were outfielders Elijah Green and Hassell III, and that could prove to have been short-sighted by some of the evaluators.

We got out there early with our Top-30 prospects, and with MLB Pipeline publishing their list yesterday, all of the rankings are in. MLB Pipeline had the advantage of watching a week of top prospects in big league camps to make some last minute adjustments. Not sure if they did that or not because they have Hassell at №8 in their Nats Top-30 which seems low. We had Hassell in mid-January at №5 — a number we still feel comfortable with. We would probably make some adjustments with moving Wood up to the top prospect but as we said before we saw Crews and Wood as 1A and 1B prospects with little difference on overall future stardom as we wrote in January, “Crews and Wood might as well be tied for first as their potential is off the charts.”

We also got eyes on some other prospects outside of the Top-30 prospects in the Washington Nationals system that are making their way back from injuries like Aldo Ramirez and Mason Denaburg. For those who don’t remember, Ramirez was the trade return in the Kyle Schwarber trade, and Denaburg the 1st round pick of the Nats in 2018. Ramirez had arm injuries, and Denaburg went from arm injuries to playing through a serious hernia injury. Both are finally back and 100 percent healthy — finally. Ramirez has time to work back as a starter — but team control clock is close to striking midnight on Denaburg who was Rule-5 eligible and not chosen. The team has to get him MLB ready soon — and in my opinion, not wait for him to time-out like they did with Matt Purke. Turn Denaburg into a hybrid reliever now and get going. I’ve seen the tape and the new mechanics for Denaburg. Velo is up and movement is much better.

These rankings are always subject to debate and are subjective. Timing is also everything. Just three years ago when the farm system was ranked last in baseball, a player like Trey Lipscomb, ranked 15th here, would have been a Top-5 back then. All of these Top-30 players have tools that stand-out enough to believe any one of them could be a future star with a tweak here or there — and some good luck.

Our biggest movers up the rankings were Young, Daylen Lile, and of course newcomers like Victor Hurtado and Angel Feliz who were just acquired as international free agents. Loud tools are important and Young and Lile have some distinct tools. Young with speed, defense, and the ability to work walks, and Lile has shown elite bat-to-ball skills, speed, and with solid defense. Both of them need to show some more power. Lile will be out for a while with a nasty tumble over the outfield wall that landed him in the hospital. Fortunately it was just a back contusion, and a lot of aches and pains. He kind of did the Fosbury Flop high jump without a cushioned mat, and it looked very serious. The medical trainers took no chances. Lile is as high as №5 by Keith Law, and he has stiff competition in front of him.

After the 2023 season, the Nationals parted ways with De Jon Watson and promoted Eddie Longosz to the VP of Player Development role. Both the team and Longosz have a lot riding on getting the farm system back on track as it stepped backwards under Watson. Longosz and his staff did exit interviews with every player they were keeping from 2023 to 2024. That was over 100 minor leaguers who were given detailed plans. The team kept in-touch with many during the offseason until the “dead period” or as some call it the “quiet period” from November 17 to January 1.

The team graduated no top-10 prospects last year, and only added to the system with the draft of Crews, and trading for DJ Herz — yet Baseball America dropped the Nats’ farm system back to the 9th best farm system which was down two spots — still very respectable, but moving in the wrong direction. Now, the Nats farm rankings have tumbled, and Baseball America has the Nats all the way down to the 15th ranked farm. What?!?

“Just needs to be consistent. … The sky’s the limit with Elijah, and it really is. But it’s maintaining that contact and getting the strikeouts down. The power is obviously there. Don’t sleep on Elijah –because it’s going to work out for him for sure.”

— Longosz on Elijah Green

If it feels like Longosz is an optimist, that would be because he is. Green and Hassell and others have to step it back up. These are former first round picks, and Green was taken with the highly coveted fifth pick overall by the Nationals just two year ago. Green just turned 20 a few months ago, and still isn’t old enough to buy a bottle of champagne to celebrate anything. He is a specimen of an athlete, and the son of former All-Pro tight end Eric Green of the Pittsburgh Steelers. There is no wonder why Green is the hardest worker in the system. But at the end of the day, it just comes down to executing, and his K rate of 41.9% at the entry level of A-ball won’t cut it unless he had the OPS of Adam Dunn. Green’s OPS was only .629 at Fredericksburg this past year.

For Hassell, his power seemed to evaporate with only a .324 SLG at his time in Double-A Harrisburg last year. Seemed. At the end of the 2022 season, Hassell fractured his hamate bone which explains why he might have struggled with the power. Looking at his High-A power in 2022 at San Diego’s Ft. Wayne affiliate, the bat was potent with a .467 slugging line. This will be Hassell’s year to show that it was all about the hamate injury. In recent videos from the batting cage, he is holding his hands lower with the bat and setting up with the bat over his left shoulder instead of behind his neck.

The most to prove will be Green and Hassell as they both struggled in 2023. There is also a key quartet of pitchers recovering from major surgeries with Cavalli, Jake Bennett, and Zach Brzykcy all on the mend from UCL elbow surgeries, and Cole Henry from the dreaded thoracic outlet syndrome surgery.

So yes, Longosz and his staff will have their work cut out for them with multiple challenges. Every team deals with this in perpetual motion. As aforementioned, the Nats graduated no top-10 prospects as Cavalli was injured for the full season and maintained his prospect status, and Young and Drew Millas did not exceed the limits on their MLB callups. Pitchers Jose Ferrer and Thaddeus Ward achieved rookie status during the 2023 season.

Several of the Nats’ prospects got invitations to big league camp in Spring Training as non-roster invitees (NRI). Wood is the stand-out in camp with Hassell right behind him. Can any of the top prospects push their way onto the Opening Day roster for March 28? That would be the theory of the ‘Best-26’ go north! Nasim Nuñez is the one player, as a Rule-5 draftee, who must make the Nats’ active roster or else be subject to return to his previous team, the Miami Marlins. His glove and arm are legit weapons, but as expected, his bat lacks the pop.

The roster will be interesting with Victor Robles, Luis Garcia Jr., and Joey Meneses all struggling in camp. Robles more than the others because he has been struggling to see the ball on defense, and has already played three flyballs that he could not see into base hits.

“They’ve both shown flashes of excellence, but inconsistency has gotten them. We want them to grab a job by the throat — and win it. When we see that, they’ll have it, but very few spots are set in stone, and there will be competition at all positions …”

— Rizzo said about Robles and Garcia on the Grant & Danny Radio Show on 106.7 yesterday

There was a long discussion on whether Rizzo would call-up Woods for the Opening Day roster as you would expect given Wood’s Spring Training stats with three home runs, a BB/K of a 3:2 ratio, and batting .474 with a 1.547 to lead all qualified batters in Spring Training in MLB. Still, the sample sizes are miniscule with just 25 plate appearances. But, the process looks very promising and Wood’s tweaked batting mechanics are working on contact. Now his only issue would be just recognizing the pitches out of the pitcher’s hand to do more damage.

“Nobody ever blocks a great player.”

“When players are ready to get to and impact the big league club, they’ll get here, and they’ll be in there every day.”

“We always go into this thing with a ‘what can help our team and give us the biggest bang for our buck for what we have’ attitude.”

— Rizzo said about Wood on the Grant & Danny Radio Show on 106.7 yesterday

Rizzo said he will not allow the PPI rule to impact how he makes decisions on promotions of top prospects. He will continue to make decisions he said that are best for the player and the team in the long-term.

Again, Rizzo has different objectives than Martinez and what the fans want. There could be some service-time manipulation — but the Nats have promoted more stars early in their trajectory than any other team. Look at Stephen Strasburg in 2010, Bryce Harper in 2012, Anthony Rendon in 2013, Trea Turner in 2015, and Juan Soto in 2018 at 19 years old. The same with Robles and Garcia, and Wood could be next at the age of 21, with Crews and House not far behind him.

“I won’t say anyone doesn’t have a chance, but they have to kick the door down and force us to put them on the team. It’s not the best guys long-term, it’s the best guys right now, and it has to make sense for their development. We’re here with few positions set in stone — competition is rampant, which I think is good for a young team, and if any of these guys are ready to go, we’ve shown no apprehension to bringing young guys to the big leagues.”

“When you’re ready for the big leagues, everyone will know it, and we’ll bring you, but our goal is to win games. We haven’t done much of it the last couple years. The by-products of learning how to win and getting reps in the big leagues is all great in the long-term, but we want to win games this year, and it’s not out of our expectations to give ourselves a chance to win every day. Nobody wants to see long rebuilds, but we have a plan in place and see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

— Rizzo said on the Grant & Danny Radio Show on 106.7 yesterday

Everything could change if Wood signed a Jackson Chourio type of an extension. Chourio, 19, recently agreed to a guaranteed $82 million deal over eight years with a couple of club options attached that could push the total value to more than $140 million. Here’s the thing, Chourio has not made his MLB debut.

The Chourio deal shattered the record for the largest contract ever signed by a player before making their MLB debut. The previous record had belonged to Luis Robert, who inked a six-year, $50 million deal back in 2020 with the Chicago White Sox. Of course most Nats fans would like to see CJ Abrams, Wood, Crews, House, and Gore all locked up in long-term deals. Good luck with that.

James Wood, in my opinion, he’s big league ready for sure. Just the way he handles himself every day, and the way his at-bats are, it just looks so easy. The way he can hit anything at any moment, no matter what count it is, and be able to drive a ball 450 feet, it’s unbelievable. Pretty cool to see. He’s a special player, and I’m glad he’s on my team.”

— Crews said on the Grant & Danny Radio Show on 106.7 yesterday

Well, there you have Crews’ opinion on Wood. What is your opinion?

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