Spring Training Game #21 Bullpen Game and a recap of the SPRING BREAKOUT showcase

What a day yesterday for the Washington Nationals organization and their fans. We had hoped to see Travis Sykora pitch for the first time, Yohandy Morales play first base, and some other positive signs. We got it all. Sykora and Morales were third and second round draft picks respectively in the 2023 draft, and Sykora hasn’t appeared in a game of record until yesterday. That was worth it all.

We had projected Morales a couple of months ago as the starting first baseman on a hunch, and we were correct on that. Besides Andrew Pinckney replacing the injured Robert Hassell III (groin), the only spot we got wrong was at DH where we had Elijah Green, the 2022 first round pick. Manager Dave Martinez went with T.J. White instead of Green. White was the team’s No. 10 prospect a year ago — and he struggled at High-A Wilmington, like many teenagers have, and the smart evaluators didn’t give up on White. MLB Pipeline dropped him to No. 30 on their prospect chart, and we moved White only down to No. 19 on our prospect rankings. We already picked White as a breakout minor leaguer for our 2024 season watch-list.

The star of yesterday’s game was White who shined above Dylan Crews, James Wood, and Brady House — and all position players on both sides that featured six players in the Top-100 prospects in baseball. White drove in both Nats’ runs on consecutive hits. The first was a double with 107.4 exit velo off the outfield wall with launch angle was 20 degrees, and only a brisk wind kept that in the park. His second at-bat nearly produced another XBH as he ripped a liner down the line that missed the chalk by inches for a foul. White reloaded and cranked a two-out RBI single. This was great to see from a player who worked out over the winter with Wood and Trey Lipscomb in Montgomery County, Maryland with Coach G.

“To me, it kind of felt like playing a real MLB game. It kind of felt like getting my first big league hit — almost. It was just a surreal experience.”

“I feel like last year I put myself in a hole a lot taking pitches I shouldn’t have taken and swinging at pitches I shouldn’t have been swinging at.”

“I think [this experience] grows my confidence — and it shows everybody else what I can do.”

— White said after the game

Oddly, the crowd was small for the SPRING BREAKOUT game even though you got admission for both games of the doubleheader with one ticket — the entirety of the infield seats were sold-out and mostly empty — a shame. Certainly almost every prospect had their families in attendance for this game. Most got to see a game that they won’t forget. This inaugural showcase game should become a mid-March staple for MLB going forward.

The negatives were there in a competitive game, and unfortunately DJ Herz and Jarlin Susana walked a batter each and gave up multiple hits in their one inning of work while facing mostly replacement players inserted into the game as Mets’ starters only were given two plate appearances in this 7-inning showcase game. Not what you want to see in a game like this, especially for an older and advanced prospect like Herz. They both clearly have stuff. Herz allowed three baserunners and a wild pitch, and Susana allowed four baserunners, and between the two, they gave up the tying and winning runs in the game.

Expect that general manager Mike Rizzo didn’t care how fast Susana threw ball four. He threw 20-of-his-27 pitches with velos of at least 100 mph and topped-out at a blazing 103 mph with two strikeouts. But again, he gave up a walk, three hits, and two runs as the pitcher of record for the L. It just goes to show that modern players are used to velo. They can’t always center it up — but they can get wood on it for hits. Again, don’t fret — the positives in this game out-weighed the negatives for sure!

“It’s kind of night and day [in the Nats’ prospect talent] from ’21 to now — my first year to now. It’s been a plethora of good talent.”

— Henry said after the game on his observation of the quality of the Nats’ prospects

Cole Henry was electric striking out all three batters he faced, and starter Jackson Rutledge was good in his inning of work even though a run (unearned) scored due to Wood getting charged for an error on a routine flyball he lost in the sun. The official scorer usually calls that a hit but maybe was miffed that Wood didn’t bother to wear sunglasses like everyone else.

Sykora pitched a perfect inning with a K, and while he only got to face three batters — we finally got to see what he had. Sykora in pre-draft rankings had some thinking, like Morales, that they could both be first round picks. The Nats drafted Crews, Morales, and Sykora over three innings, and they were all in this game showing what they can do.

“I’ve never had a professional game, so this was kind of my first one. It wasn’t official, but it was a realistic game, so I had a lot of adrenaline up there. It was cool. It was definitely a moment I won’t forget.”

— Sykora said after the game in which he admitted he was nervous in the pregame

The second game of the doubleheader was the regularly scheduled big league Spring Training game. It started off with a bang as Luis Garcia, Jr. got a ball up in the jet stream to left field that carried out at 336 feet, and the Mets first batter of the game, on the first pitch, did the same to Trevor Williams in what looked like the Williams of August 2023. He gave up three singles to three of the next four batters, and two runs in total, before settling down and looking like an ace the rest of the way. Williams K’d five batters with no walks and earned the win over 5.0 innings. Our highlight of the game came from top prospect Cristhian Vaquero who fought off a tough pitch into shallow center field and Vaquero hustled out of the box for a double. Nothing like batting 1.000 on your statline with a 3.000 OPS. Good for this young man. Jacob Young was also 1-for-1 in the game as he had a hard oppo single to plate two runs, and Lane Thomas cranked a 3-run homer to put the game away.

Onto today’s game against the Cardinals at 12:05 at the CACTI Park of the Palm Beaches, the Nats are going with a bullpen game to get their relievers work. Derek Law is set to be the opener in this one. No TV, but you can listen to Charlie & Dave on the radio via 106.7 The Fan and the MLB app.

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