Hernández headed to Detroit; Wood, Hassell receive more praise

After a dismal year in D.C., César Hernández will try to resurrect his career by making Detroit’s roster off a minor league deal.

Hernández agreed to a non-guaranteed contract with an invitation to big league camp Wednesday, according to multiple reports. If he makes the Tigers’ roster, he’ll earn a $1.5 million salary, with the possibility of another $1.85 million in performance bonuses.

It’s a steep drop-off in financial security for the 32-year-old infielder, who got a $4 million major league deal with the Nationals last winter and was handed the Opening Day job at second base.

Hernández never lived up to the billing. His .629 OPS was his lowest since 2014, when he was still trying to make it with the Phillies. After launching 21 homers for the White Sox and Cleveland in 2021, he homered just once for the Nats, and that blast didn’t come until Sept. 4 in his 124th game played.

In spite of his struggles, Hernández actually took more plate appearances than any other member of the Nationals last season, coming up to bat 617 times. He remained the everyday second baseman into late August, at which point the team was finally ready to go with a young middle infield combo of CJ Abrams and Luis García. Hernández wound up seeing some playing time in left field down the stretch.

With the club committed to Abrams and García, and with Ildemaro Vargas penciled into the utility infielder role for 2023, there was no real interest from the Nationals in bringing Hernández back. The fact he had to settle for a minor league deal with a Tigers team that lost 96 games last season underscores how far his stock has fallen.

Two of the players the Nationals received in last summer’s blockbuster trade for Juan Soto and Josh Bell are now ranked among the top 10 outfield prospects in baseball, according to MLB Pipeline’s new list that debuted Wednesday.

James Wood, the 6-foot-7 power and speed machine, was named the No. 5 outfield prospect in the sport entering the season. Robert Hassell III, the sweet-swinging lefty hitter, checked in as the No. 9 outfield prospect.

It’s the latest show of praise for a couple of key players acquired from the Padres in a trade the Nationals hope will reshape their entire franchise for future success. Wood recently was named the 11th-best prospect in baseball (regardless of position) by Baseball America, with Hassell ranking 57th, one spot ahead of fellow outfielder Elijah Green.

In its write-up of Wood, MLB Pipeline lauded the 20-year-old as a potential “five-tool major leaguer” if he’s able to stick in center field and not be forced to a corner position due to his large frame. The 240-pounder hit .293/.366/.463 in 21 games with low Single-A Fredericksburg following the trade. In 76 total minor league games for both franchises last season, he hit .313/.420/.536 with 27 doubles, 12 homers and 20 stolen bases.

MLB Pipeline projects Wood to make his major league debut in 2025, one year behind Hassell, who already has experience at Double-A.

Hassell finished the 2022 season with a .273/.357/.407 slash line, 25 doubles, 11 homers and 24 steals in 112 games split between two Single-A affiliates and Double-A Harrisburg. He was set to play in the Arizona Fall League in October but required surgery to remove the hamate bone in his right wrist, which sidelined him for the fall.

The 21-year-old also has a chance to make it as a big league center fielder and is lauded for his ability to make consistent contact, thanks to a “classically beautiful left-handed swing,” according to MLB Pipeline.

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