Green searching for more contact while trying to keep up with Nats' top outfield prospects

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. – The Nationals have a plethora of top outfield prospects getting closer to the major leagues.

Top prospect James Wood just rejoined Triple-A Rochester’s roster after a three-week stint on the injured list. And he’s now reunited with the Nats’ No. 2 prospect Dylan Crews, who just earned his first promotion to Triple-A and hit his first home run with Rochester in his second game.

Robert Hassell III remains at Double-A Harrisburg, where he finds himself on the IL after a strong start to the season. And Daylen Lile has moved up from High-A Wilmington to get his first taste of Double-A ball.

But there is another top outfield prospect that may seem like he’s getting left behind.

Elijah Green still finds himself at Single-A Fredericksburg, unable to yet move out of the lower levels of the minor leagues now in his second full season in the Nats system.

Green was the Nats’ first-round pick in 2022 out of IMG Academy, where he was teammates with Wood. But there’s a certain level of expectations for a No. 5 overall pick that Green is still trying to reach.

Coming out of high school, Green was scouted as a highly skilled athlete with the potential to put up big power numbers. But he struggled with his power last year during his first extended stay at Single-A, hitting only 18 extra-base hits, Including just four home runs, in 75 games.

Now 20 years old, Green has already hit five homers and seven doubles near the halfway point of the FredNats’ season.

“I think, honestly, it's all been a success,” Green said of his first half ahead of Fredericksburg’s home series opener Tuesday. “Just going out there and playing the game. Focus on my routines. Everyone has stuff to work on. Just continue to work on my things and continue with my routines. The numbers will show, results will end up showing. So I'm not really too stressed about it being a success or not.”

Many critics point to Green’s high strikeout rate (46.2 percent of plate appearances) and low batting average (.166) as the main reasons he hasn’t advanced up the farm system. And while those two figures are definitely not where the young outfielder would like them, they are related to each other and don’t tell the whole story.

Green posted a .210 average while striking out 139 times last year in Fredericksburg. But his batting average on balls in play – which essentially removes homers and strikeouts from the equation – was .407.

So far this year, Green has already struck out 114 times with a batting average well below the Mendoza Line. But his batting average on balls in play is .316 so far this season.

So his focus during the second half: Contact.

“Right now, just trying to work on pitch selection,” Green said. “Just trying to get my pitches that I want to swing at and know the pitches that I crush. So I'm just trying to get to that point.”

“It's an intent, right?” said Fredericksburg manager Jake Lowery. “When we drafted him, he had some swing-and-miss, but the power potential, the body, the size, those are things that you can't teach. And for him to make contact, as cliche as it sounds, is something that we're working on: His intent with it, the atmosphere that we're putting him in. And his work behind the scenes, his due diligence behind the scenes to do it and to try it is off the charts.”

If and when Green starts making more contact, he should fly up the rankings. MLB Pipeline grades him power, arm strength and fielding tools each as 60, with his speed as 70. He has maintained a strong stolen base rate while playing solid defense in center field.

And when he makes contact, as evident by his batting average on balls in play, he has success. Plus, the ball goes fast and far, with his exit velocity topping out at 116 mph on a homer on Mother’s Day, the hardest hit by a FredNat this season.

“Well, I'd say that's it,” Lowery said of what Green needs to do to take the next step in his development. “His outs right now are strikeouts. But he plays stellar defense in the outfield, controls center field and throws to the right base. He's a great baserunner. He's improving every day. I think one of the biggest things for him though is the contact, and that's the issue.

“But he has extra-base potential every time he's out there. He hits the ball extremely hard. He's one of the top players speed-wise in the game, not just in the minor leagues, but the big leagues, with feet per second, which is astonishing. But when he puts the ball in play, good things happen. And he hits it so hard that even better things happen. So for us, it's just to hone in that strikeout percentage and to keep him progressing forward. Take the average out and things like that, his balls put in play, he's got a pretty high average because he does such a good job with damage. I think that's the next step.”

But perhaps most importantly, Green has remained healthy after missing a lot of time last year with a wrist issue.

“One hundred percent healthy,” he said. “Out here just making the most of it. I'm so grateful to have this opportunity. Not everyone gets blessed to be in this opportunity and play in professional baseball. So I'm just taking every day in and attacking every day and just having fun out here.”

The contact still remains the biggest question mark for Green, who has seen his fellow outfield prospects reach the upper levels of the Nats system.

Nevertheless, the son of an NFL Pro Bowler continues to put in the work behind the scenes and remains grateful for the opportunity to play ball every day.

“Definitely (one of the) things I could be working on is just more contact with the ball,” he said. “But things I'm happy with is just how I'm processing things. And how I'm taking things. And how I'm still working hard every day, not giving up. Just going out there and having fun and playing my game.”

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