Alu among four position players in latest round of cuts

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The Nationals made their second round of spring cuts this afternoon, removing four position players from big league camp and bringing a bit more clarity to their options for the final two spots on their Opening Day bench.

Two of the four players cut are on the organization’s 40-man roster and were optioned to the minors: infielder Jake Alu (Triple-A Rochester) and outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa (Double-A Harrisburg). The other two were re-assigned to minor league camp: outfielders Yadiel Hernandez and Travis Blankenhorn.

Alu was perhaps the only surprising name on today’s list because the versatile 25-year-old appeared to be a candidate for a utility job on the Opening Day roster. The Nats, though, believe he’ll be better served getting more regular at-bats in minor league games the rest of the spring, rotating among multiple positions in the field.

“It was tough,” manager Davey Martinez said. “The reality is, we want to get him to play every day. He’s going to end up playing multiple positions. Get him comfortable playing some third, some second and even some left field. But just let him get as many at-bats as possible.”

Alu, a 24th round pick in the 2019 draft, turned heads in the organization last season when he racked up 40 doubles, 20 homers, 81 RBIs and an .871 OPS in 132 games split between Harrisburg and Rochester. Primarily a third baseman, the 5-foot-10 left-handed hitter has been attempting to master other positions in hopes of setting himself up for a career as a big league utilityman.

“I like him,” Martinez said. “I think this guy swings the bat well. He plays the game the right way. We value him as being a guy who can play some third, play some second and even play some left field in a punch. Somewhere along the line this year, he’ll help us.”

De La Rosa, who has yet to play above Single-A, was never seriously in the mix for a roster spot this spring but got his first opportunity to compete in big league camp. The 21-year-old, who still appears in most rankings of the organization’s top 10 prospects despite falling behind several newly acquired outfielders, is set to open this season in Harrisburg, playing all three positions.

“Look, we’ve got an abundance of outfielders in our organization,” Martinez said. “But we feel like he’s right there with all of them.”

Despite producing a .727 OPS in 218 games with the Nationals over parts of the last three seasons, Hernandez’s stock dropped when he was removed from the 40-man roster in the fall. The 35-year-old returned to big league camp as a non-roster invitee; now he’ll likely open the season in Rochester.

Blankenhorn joined the Nats on a minor league deal this winter after appearing in 26 games with the Twins and Mets since 2020. The 26-year-old will probably also begin the year in Rochester.

Today’s moves bring the Nationals’ spring training roster down to 48, with 20 days to go until the March 30 season opener against the Braves. They also reduce the number of remaining candidates for what should be two available spots on the Opening Day bench.

Assuming catcher Riley Adams and infielder Ildemaro Vargas are locks to make the club, the Nats would need to decide on a fourth outfielder between Alex Call and Stone Garrett, then one more spot that could either go to the other outfielder, an infielder like Michael Chavis, Jeter Downs or Leonel Valera or veteran first baseman/DH Matt Adams.

* The ultrasound on Victor Robles' left knee revealed only a bruise, according to Martinez, so the outfielder remains day-to-day following Wednesday's collision with the wall in Lakeland.

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