As the major league regular season enters its last week, the lower level of the minor leagues have already wrapped up their 2022 campaigns.
In the Nationals system, only Triple-A Rochester is still playing games with their season finale coming tomorrow afternoon. Double-A Harrisburg, High-A Wilmington, Single-A Fredericksburg and the Rookie-level Florida Complex League are done playing games and now see some of their top players come together for the instructional league camp at the Nationals’ facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Robert Hassell III, Elijah Green, James Wood, Jarlin Susana and Jackson Rutledge are among some of the top prospects taking part in instructs. A lot of the future faces of this franchise are all together for their first camp since many of them came to the franchise via this summer’s draft and trade deadline moves.
Just an hour away in West Palm, the group of players made a trip down to visit the Nationals over the weekend in Miami. General manager Mike Rizzo, director of player development De Jon Watson and manager Davey Martinez were among some of the heads in the organization to address the young players.
“Yeah, I spoke to them all and I talked to them for a little while,” Martinez said. “It was good to actually get in front of them and see some of those guys. Some of the guys I've seen before but congratulate them for being there. I mean, when you get to instructional league, it's kind of like the guys are handpicked to be there and get some more instruction. And I told them to keep working hard and kind of be the cream of the crop, really. And keep working. I mean, the door's wide open right now for you guys and we're looking at players and keep pushing. Be the best and keep putting up the numbers and have fun.”
Some of these top prospects are carrying over strong finishes to their season into the instructional league.
After a promotion to Double-A in August, Hassell hit .222 in 108 at-bats over 27 games with Harrisburg after hitting only .211 at Wilmington. His power flashed more with the Senators as he hit five doubles and his lone homer in the Nationals system. He also drew 13 walks and stole a base while collecting five multi-hit games over his 15 games in September.
Hassell will be one of 10 Nationals prospects set to play in the Arizona Fall League next month.
Green, the fifth overall pick in July’s draft, only appeared in 12 games with the FCL Nats, but impressed with 13 hits, four doubles, two homers and nine RBIs.
Wood hit .293 over 21 games with Fredericksburg, including eight doubles, two homers and 17 RBIs. He missed some time during the last week of the season, but he was able to return for the final weekend series and played in all three of the FredNats’ playoff games.
Susana was called up to make three starts for Fredericksburg after making two in the FCL. He pitched to a 2.61 ERA over 10 ⅓ innings and struck out 13, flashing his triple-digit fastball.
And Rutledge had his most complete and productive professional seasons to date. The former first-round pick finished 8-4 with a 4.90 ERA, but he was dominant down the stretch and started Game 1 of the FredNats’ playoff series, the only game they won. Seeing the big right-hander finish the season healthy with 20 starts under his belt was probably more important for the Nationals than his numbers earlier in the year.
While a lot of the players at instructs are still young and haven’t even reached the upper levels of the minor league system, Martinez still wants them to learn many of the lessons that he preaches to his major league players.
“Just continue to learn the game, especially the fundamental part of the game. Instructional league is really trying to, for me, it's trying to get them to understand the fundamental part. The winning part of it. What you can do consistently every day. That's the biggest thing for me that they can learn is just how to get better consistently. I told them, look for me, the game doesn't change, right? You still hit, playing the game with a baseball. with a glove, hitting, trying to hit the ball with a bat. I said it's just the game gets a little quicker up here. And you just gotta learn how to play quicker up here and it just comes with a lot of consistency.
“The more consistent you can be, or what you do, the better you're gonna get at it. And that's what we look for up here. Guys that want to win and play consistently good baseball, and that's what it's all about. And these guys got an opportunity to do that. When you're young in the minor leagues, your goal is to make it to the big leagues as soon as possible. So push yourselves. Push yourselves to be better than your teammates, push yourselves to be better than everybody else and we'll see what happens.”
Update: Reports are saying the Nationals have ended instructs in West Palm Beach due to safety concerns with Hurricane Ian approaching Florida. The players are not expected to return to the facility.