The Nationals are building outfield talent at the lower levels of their organization. The club boasts a good amount of quality prospects that are a couple of years away from making an impact at the major league level.
The highest-rated of these outfielders is Jeremy De La Rosa, who is No. 13 on the list of MLBPipeline.com Nats prospects. The 18-year-old played 26 games with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals in 2019.
Former major league outfielder Gary Thurman has been the outfield/baserunning coordinator for the Nats since 2017 and likes what he has seen from De La Rosa. Thurman noticed a maturity from the youngster as he made his way through the summer workouts and intrasquad games.
"He is still young," Thurman said. "It was really good this year because actually he came to our secondary spring training site and I got work with him on some occasions one-on-one. I think because of the reps he got to take, and the talking with the older players, seeing how they went about their work, he got a lot better doing that program. And then he came to instructional ball and was the leader of everything. He started to gain a lot of confidence. He came out of his shell a little bit. Being a lot more aggressive in the outfield, having fun. He can play all three outfield positions. He can play the heck out of center field. Man, he's going to be a really good one."
Thurman played alongside Willie Wilson, a former All-Star and Silver Slugger, Gold Glove and World Series winner while with the Royals. As a matter of fact, Thurman had just finished playing a round of golf with Wilson before we sat down to talk. Thurman knows what it takes to be an elite outfielder, and he spoke about where he thinks De La Rosa could fit in with the Nats.
"He's so young that I think that if I was to rate him, I would say Michael A. Taylor is probably one of the better outfielders in the major leagues, period," Thurman said. "I don't think he's going to be that guy, but with all his tools, he's going to play defense better than a Daniel Johnson. Defensive-wise, we had a good one with Blake Perkins, very instinctive. Jeremy possesses all those qualities. Working with the older guys like Yadiel HernÃ¡ndez and Andrew Stevenson, he grew a lot and he learned a lot about and the importance of the little things. It was really good for him to work with Andrew Stevenson because Stevenson taught him a lot about how to go about his work."
And this goes back to teaching moments we saw between guys like Jackson Cluff and Brandon Snyder this summer and how important those moments are to young Nats prospects as they learn the ropes. To have your own teammates break down what you will need to succeed at the next level is invaluable. Thurman watched that mentorship happen before his eyes with De La Rosa and his interactions with teammates at the alternate site and in Florida.
"When I was feeding the machine, I could see Andrew out there talking to him about the drop step or angles you take in a (defensive) situation," Thurman said. "So his mental (side of the game) grew just like his physical. Even though we lost a full year with his reps with no minor leagues this year, I think coming to that program and having the instructional ball didn't hurt him at all. He grew a lot. The best thing about this was we had eyes on him every single day. It wasn't like we were going in once every three weeks of watching his progress. We got to work with him every single day."