Bennett impressed before Tommy John surgery, targets 2025 return


Age on opening day 2024: 23

How acquired: Drafted in second round in 2022 from University of Oklahoma

Ranking: No. 10 per MLB Pipeline, previously No. 10 per Baseball America before Nov. 6 top 10 update

MLB ETA: 2024
* Projected by MLB Pipeline

Signing bonus: $1,734,800

2023 levels: Single-A Fredericksburg and High-A Wilmington

2023 stats: 1-6, 3.14 ERA, 15 G, 15 GS, 63 IP, 60 H, 33 R, 22 ER, 4 HR, 16 BB, 73 SO, 4 HBP, 1.206 WHIP

Quotable: “We're excited about (Josiah) Gray, (MacKenzie) Gore and (Jake) Irvin in the big leagues, and then you got (Jackson) Rutledge and Cole Henry and (Jake) Bennett and that group of guys ... (Cade) Cavalli. That group of guys, they'll all be in the big leagues sometime in the near future.” – Mike Rizzo on 106.7 The Fan’s “The Sports Junkies” on Sept. 13, one week before news of Jake Bennett’s Tommy John surgery

2023 analysis: Bennett has followed fellow top pitching prospect Cade Cavalli everywhere since 2015, first at Bixby High School in Bixby, Okla., then as a Sooner at the University of Oklahoma and now to the Nationals’ minor league system.

The Nats originally drafted Bennett out of high school in the 39th round of the 2019 draft. But the left-hander stuck to his commitment to Oklahoma instead of signing as a pro. No matter because the Nats got him again three years later, this time in the second round, and signed him for full slot value as the No. 45 overall pick.

Bennett didn’t pitch in the minor leagues until this year due to his heavy workload in college last year, though he did throw some in instructs. Because of that he didn’t enter this season ranked as a top 30 Nats prospect by either MLB Pipeline or Baseball America.

But the 6-foot-6, 234-pound southpaw changed their minds quickly.

He posted a 1.93 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 11.6 strikeout-per-nine-innings rate and 6.75 strikeout-to-walk rate in 42 innings over nine starts with Fredericksburg to start the season, earning a promotion to Wilmington in early June. Although he struggled with the tougher competition in High-A to the tune of a 5.57 ERA and 1.619 WHIP in 21 innings over six starts, he still had an 8.1 K/9 and 2.38 K/BB. With those first-half numbers, he cracked the top 10 of Nats prospects by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America in their midseason rankings.

But Bennett missed all of July, with the Nats saying they were skipping his starts to give him extra rest. And then after three starts in August (in which he gave up 11 runs in seven innings), he was shut down for the season with the news coming out a month later that the 22-year-old had Tommy John surgery in early September, which included internal bracing, and will miss the entire 2024 season.

2024 outlook: Bennett became the third top Nats pitching prospect to undergo serious surgery in the past year, following Cavalli’s Tommy John surgery (another thing the two have in common) in March and Henry’s thoracic outlet syndrome surgery at the end of last season.

With eyes toward 2025, there is still a lot to like about the lefty once he’s fully recovered.

Bennett usually sits around 91-94 mph with his above-average fastball. He has touched 98, but his post-Tommy John velocity will obviously be a big question mark. His 60-grade curveball is rated as his best pitch, sitting 82-85 mph as a great out-pitch against right-handers. His below-average slider is a work in progress as it hurt him against lefties, but reports say it still shows promise as it sweeps across the strike zone.

The Nats have been most impressed with Bennett’s control during his short time in the organization. He walked only 4.6 percent of batters over three seasons at Oklahoma and that only creeped up to 6.2 percent in his first professional season. He also did a great job of limiting the longball, only surrendering four homers this year for a 0.6 home-run-per-nine-innings rate.

Bennett should be good to go entering spring training in 2025, when he’ll be 24 and almost 1 ½ years removed from his Tommy John surgery. The Nats, of course, will still likely monitor his innings, but the stuff he showed in limited action this year could help him climb the organizational ladder quickly.

Once he reaches the big leagues, he projects to be a back-of-the-rotation starter.

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