On Wednesday evening, I made the drive to Wilmington, Del., in order to get my first look at the 2018 Potomac Nationals. In spite of the drizzle and cold temperatures, I came away quite impressed with the collection of talent the Nationals have assembled at their high Single-A affiliate, not to mention the beginnings of a head cold.
Right-hander Wil Crowe, Washington's second-round pick last summer and a top 10 prospect, started Wednesday's contest and pitched well despite the conditions, allowing two runs on six hits and a walk versus five strikeouts over six innings. Crowe featured a 90-93 mph fastball that moves like Jagger, a low-80s changeup and a mid-80s slider, plus an intriguing low-70s curveball. He has a relatively simple windup and while his control wavered a bit, showed a mature approach toward attacking opposing hitters. I am curious to see if he gains a tick or two of velocity as the weather improves, but Washington looks to have found a good one in Crowe.
When Crowe was finished, there was little drop-off, as Ronald Pena entered the game throwing 94-95 mph fastballs, along with a hard mid-80s slider. Lefty Hayden Howard relieved Pena and was showing an 88-91 mph fastball and a mid-70s breaking ball to keep hitters off-balance. Fnally, closer Gabe Klobosits looked the part of a late-inning reliever, flashing a 93-96mph fastball and an 86mph slider with quick, late break. While not quite Washington's "Law Firm" of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle, but Pena, Howard and Klobosits does have a nice ring to it.
Offensively I was fortunate enough to see Washington's No. 2-ranked prospect, Juan Soto, play his second game for Potomac, as he was promoted from low Single-A Hagerstown earlier this week. And Soto did not disappoint, going 2-for-5 and hitting an absolute monster home run to right field. He has lightning-fast hands and an uncanny ability to put the barrel on the baseball to create hard contact.
Almost as impressive, Soto made a terrific defensive play late in the game, ranging deep into right-center field to rob a Wilmington hitter of an extra-base hit. Everyone focuses on Soto's offense when discussing him as a prospect, and for good reason, so it was a pleasant surprise to see him make a high-level major league play in the lousy weather.
Additionally, both center fielder Blake Perkins and catcher Jakson Reetz caught my eye, as they each spent this offseason improving their physiques. Perkins has added good muscle and strength, particularly to his upper body, but the mass did not appear to hinder his speed or range defensively. On the other hand, Reetz looks a bit leaner from last year, which has helped his quickness and agility behind the plate. Reetz has also made adjustments to his swing, freeing up his arms and unlocking some additional bat speed. He looks like a totally different player this season and is a possible sleeper in the system.
I would encourage everyone reading to make the trek to Woodbridge, Va., this season and watch the P-Nats, as they have several top prospects and should be one of the top teams in the Carolina League. So get to Pfitzner Stadium this summer and look for me behind the plate scouting tomorrow's superstars.
Ryan Sullivan blogs about the Nationals at The Nats GM and runs The Nats GM Show podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @NatsGMdotcom. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.