How the Nationals fared in the Arizona Fall League

There weren’t a lot of prominent Nationals prospects who participated in this year’s Arizona Fall League, and the most prominent of the lot appeared in only two games due to injury. So you’re forgiven if you didn’t pay much attention to the month-long showcase of top minor leaguers that wrapped up Nov. 12.

That’s what we’re here for: To provide a recap for you.

Of the 10 players the Nats sent to Arizona to join the Peoria Javelinas, only two appear on the organization’s top 30 prospects list compiled by MLB Pipeline, and wouldn’t you know it’s the guy at the top of the list and the guy at the bottom of the list.

No. 1 prospect Robert Hassell III was hoping to spend a month facing elite pitching and establishing his credentials for a possible big league debut sometime in 2023. But the 21-year-old outfielder, acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto blockbuster trade, played in only two games (he went 1-for-6 with an RBI) before a fractured hamate bone in his right wrist brought everything to a screeching halt.

Hassell had surgery to remove the bone, a fairly common procedure that typically carries a recovery time of 6-8 weeks. So there’s no real concern about him heading into spring training. But it’s still disappointing he didn’t get more of a chance to see how he stacked up against other top prospects.

No. 30 prospect Drew Millas, meanwhile, turned some heads with his offensive performance in Arizona. The 24-year-old catcher, acquired from the Athletics in July 2021 in the Josh Harrison-Yan Gomes deal, hit a robust .305 (18-for-59) with five doubles, two homers, 13 RBIs and an .825 OPS.

Millas hadn’t hit .300 or produced an OPS over .800 since his junior year at Missouri State, so this performance kind of came out of nowhere. In 88 minor league games split between Single-A Fredericksburg, Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg this season, he hit .225 with 14 doubles, six homers, 36 RBIs and a .690 OPS. The Nationals opted not to add him to the 40-man roster earlier this month, so he’s unprotected from the Rule 5 draft.

The most recognizable name among the rest of the group that played in Arizona this fall was Darren Baker, who exceeded expectations at Wilmington and Harrisburg this season to earn a spot in the AFL. The 23-year-old second baseman played in only three games, going 3-for-13 with three walks. He did, however, get to be in Houston to watch his father, Dusty, finally win his first World Series as a big league manager.

Outfielder Yasel Antuna went out west hoping to end a disappointing season on a positive note. The 23-year-old converted infielder, placed on the Nationals’ 40-man roster last winter, hit a scant .215 with 17 doubles, 11 homers, 48 RBIs and a .691 OPS this season at Wilmington and Harrisburg. He fared about the same this fall, batting .225 (9-for-40) with three doubles, zero homers, nine RBIs and a .640 OPS.

Brady Lindsly, the organization’s second catcher sent to Arizona, saw minimal action. In seven games, the 2020 fourth-round pick went 4-for-22 with two RBIs, five walks and eight strikeouts. He batted .190/.256/.308 in 66 games for Harrisburg during the regular season.

An eighth-round pick in the 2021 draft who began the season in rookie ball in Florida, Will Frizzell isn’t the kind of prospect who usually finds himself in the AFL one year later. But after a big season at the plate (.388/.449/.671, 11 homers, 58 RBIs) in 45 games in West Palm Beach and Fredericksburg, the first baseman opened some eyes. Frizzell appeared in seven games for the Javelinas this fall, going 5-for-25 with nine strikeouts.

The Nationals didn’t send any of their top pitching prospects to Arizona, with Tim Cate perhaps the best-known of the bunch. The 25-year-old lefty, a second-round pick in the 2018 draft, has struggled to find success at the Double-A level the last two seasons, and he didn’t find it against the top prospects he faced this fall. In five games (four starts) for Peoria, Cate was roughed up for 24 runs (20 earned) on 25 hits and eight walks across only 10 innings.

At the other end of the spectrum was Orlando Ribalta, the 24-year-old Cuban reliever who had solid numbers in A ball and then was lights out in Arizona. In eight appearances spanning 10 1/3 innings, Ribalta did not surrender a run and issued only one walk. Whether he can carry that momentum into the 2023 season remains to be seen.

Lucas Knowles, a 24-year-old swingman who went 8-1 with a 3.19 ERA in 28 games (13 starts) for Wilmington during the season, put only 13 men on base in 13 2/3 innings in the AFL but allowed nine of them to score (in part due to four homers surrendered). That distorted his numbers a bit and led to an elevated 5.93 ERA despite a 1.098 WHIP.

Finally, 24-year-old reliever Amos Willingham had an impressive 13-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the Javelinas but was charged with five runs in 9 1/3 innings. A 17th-round pick in 2019, the right-hander had a 3.41 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings at Wilmington this season.

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