First full workout features fundamentals, blasts by the kids

CJ Abrams spring training

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – They took the field as a team for the first time in 2024, Nationals pitchers, catchers and position players alike emerging from the clubhouse and heading outside to stretch, warm up and then conduct fundamental workouts in unison on the first day of full-squad workouts.

“Great day,” manager Davey Martinez said afterward. “A lot of energy. The boys were good. I saw some good pitching. I saw some good hitting. It was a good day.”

Fifty-four of the 58 players who have been invited to major league camp so far participated. One (Mason Thompson) is still in the middle of a two-week shutdown due to elbow soreness. One (Zach Davies) just arrived today after signing a minor league deal Sunday. One (Trevor Williams) is due to arrive later this week after his wife gave birth to the couple’s fifth child over the weekend. And one (Stephen Strasburg) may or may not take up the club’s request to come to Florida and mentor young pitchers even though he's no longer physically able to pitch himself.

Everyone else was good to go, and the ensuing 2 1/2 hours provided a combination of serious instruction, intriguing head-to-head matchups among teammates and ample opportunity for laughter and fun.

Martinez chose to set the tone for the workout – and the entire spring – with some baserunning instruction right off the top. The seventh-year manager gathered every position player around the plate for a lengthy discussion of baserunning expectations, then ushered everyone to first base where he personally demonstrated the proper way to take leads, get back to the bag or take off for second base and beyond.

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Martinez impressed with early arrivals; no six-man rotation for now

Davey Martinez dugout red

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – These early days of spring training are supposed to be reserved for pitchers and catchers. Position players technically don’t report until Tuesday.

Stroll through the Nationals clubhouse, though, or walk around their practice fields, and you can’t help but notice how many position players already are here.

Of the 29 position players invited to big league camp this spring, all but two were on the field today for informal workouts. Only prospects Dylan Crews and Darren Baker have yet to be seen, and if they show up Saturday they’d still be reporting three days early.

This isn’t a byproduct of any message from club officials, subtle or unsubtle. It’s been up to the individual players to arrive at their own preferred pace, and nearly all of them chose to arrive early.

“The message is to make sure they’re ready go for spring training,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I always tell them: Be in shape as if you’re coming in to play a game. And they took it to heart. A lot of them – because the weather’s so good – they came here early and started to work out. When I came here, we already had 15-16 guys working out. I thought that was pretty impressive. I’m happy they’re here. I’m happy they’re working this early.”

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Spring storylines: The kids are here at last

James Wood futures jersey

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – There admittedly hasn’t been a lot of juice at Nationals spring training in recent years. Such is life when you tear down the remnants of a championship roster and start over, recognizing it’s going to be a while until the fruits of your labor pay off.

For the last two years, it felt like there was more reason to pay attention to minor-league camp than major-league camp, as the franchise’s next wave of prospects began the long trek up the organizational depth chart.

The Nats aren’t all the way there yet. There is no serious talk of contention in 2024. When the season begins, those prospects are almost certainly all still going to be in the minor leagues.

But for the first time, several of them will be participating in major-league camp. And even if none of them survive to the end of March, their presence alone is going to create some sorely needed juice that’s been lacking in recent springs.

The three big non-roster invitees to camp are Dylan Crews, James Wood and Brady House, the organization’s consensus top three prospects. Two first-round draft picks (House in 2021, Crews in 2023) and perhaps the best of the five young players acquired in the Juan Soto trade (Wood). All closed out last season at Double-A Harrisburg, suggesting all could be on track to debut in D.C. sometime this season.

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More prospect rankings ahead of spring training

James Wood Harrisburg red

As the offseason dwindles down and pitchers and catchers prepare to report to spring training in 10 days, the last few bits of offseason content are getting pushed out.

Among them continues to be the latest prospect and minor league farm system rankings.

Baseball America has come out with their updated lists two weeks ago. Dylan Crews came in as the No. 6 overall prospect in the sport, with James Wood at No. 11 and Brady House at No. 55. Cade Cavalli, Yohandy Morales, Jackson Rutledge, Robert Hassell III, Cristhian Vaquero, Elijah Green and Jarlin Susana round out the top 10 in Baseball America’s new top 30 Nats prospects rankings.

Over the past week, some new rankings dropped.

A little over a week ago MLB Pipeline released its new top 100 prospects list to conclude their series of ranking the top 10 at each position.

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Crews, Wood, House among non-roster invitees to Nats camp

Brady House futures game

Major-league camp in West Palm Beach is going to feature the best minor-league players in the Nationals organization.

Dylan Crews, James Wood and Brady House are among the prospects who have been invited to big-league camp this spring, the team announced Tuesday. The three consensus top prospects in the organization all will get their first opportunity to be part of a big-league clubhouse, compete against top competition and make their case to club officials to earn promotions to D.C. in the near future.

The Nats announced 11 non-roster invitations altogether, the first batch of minor leaguers who know they’ll be in major-league camp. More invitations are expected before pitchers and catchers report to The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches two weeks from today, whether in the form of free agents who sign minor-league deals or more current members of the farm system who get a chance to move up.

In addition to Crews, Wood and House, the Nationals announced invitations to outfield prospect Robert Hassell III, infield prospects Trey Lipscomb and Darren Baker and catcher Brady Lindsly. They also extended invitations to four players with major-league experience who signed minor-league contracts: outfielder Travis Blankenhorn, first basemen Lewin Díaz and Juan Yepez and left-hander Joe La Sorsa.

Hassell, Lipscomb and Baker all will draw interest this spring, and all could make their major-league debuts sometime in 2024. But the spotlight will shine brightest on the three top-rated prospects, all of whom are expected to reach the big leagues this year.

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Three Nats ranked in Baseball America's new top 100 prospects list

Hassell Wood Crews Harrisburg

There is only so much offseason content to put out with a month left to go before the start of spring training, but some major publications are starting to roll out some preseason topics.

Among those, Baseball America released its latest top 100 prospects list Wednesday morning with some familiar names from the Nationals making the cut.

Outfielder Dylan Crews was ranked as the No. 6 overall prospect in the sport by Baseball America’s staff, with outfielder James Wood coming in at No. 11 and third baseman Brady House at No. 55.

For these preseason rankings, the publication puts together the list of players based on “their long-term MLB impact.”

It’s no surprise that Crews was the highest ranked Nationals prospect after he was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in last summer’s draft after winning a national championship and the Golden Spikes Award with LSU. He entered the draft as the consensus top ranked position player.

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Most significant stories of 2023 on the farm

Dylan Crews Mike Rizzo intro

As the first week of the new year comes to a close, we’ve done our fair share of looking back at the Nationals’ 2023 season and ahead to the 2024 campaign. At the major league level.

During this week’s “The Hot Stove Show” on MASN All Access (which you can watch here), Brendan Mortensen and I talked a lot about the Nats’ top prospects in the minor league system and what to expect from some of them this year.

That got me thinking: We haven’t really looked back at the most significant stories from last year on the farm.

So to briefly coincide with Mark Zuckerman’s “Most significant stories of 2023” series from the week leading up New Year’s Day, here are seven of the most important headlines from the Nationals’ minor league side of the past year …

1) Dylan Crews drafted No. 2 overall
This one is the most obvious selection. At this time a year ago, one of the main focuses heading into the season was who the Nationals would select with the No. 2 pick in the MLB Draft.

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Plenty to look forward to in 2024

Keibert Ruiz swing blue away

Happy New Year to everybody out there. With 2023 officially behind us, it’s time to look ahead to 2024. (My references to “last season” and “this season” will officially change as well.)

It was an encouraging year in many ways for the Nationals, though not nearly enough ways to leave everyone satisfied. The good news: There’s plenty to hope for in the new year, with a lot of potentially positive developments on the horizon.

With that in mind, let’s run through some reasonably optimistic outlooks for 2024 for the following notable parties …

KEIBERT RUIZ: A continuation of what he did in the second half at the plate, and some major improvement behind the plate.

JOEY MENESES: A chance to play first base on a regular basis and – with a healthy knee – a return of the power stroke he showed off during his out-of-nowhere rookie season.

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Longosz on what excites him about Nats' farm system

Hassell Wood Crews Harrisburg

Last month, the Nationals promoted longtime front office staffer Eddie Longosz to vice president and assistant general manager of player development and administration after spending the last 13 years in the club’s scouting department, most recently as the director of scouting operations for the last eight.

Before the promotion, Longosz, a D.C. native, assisted general manager Mike Rizzo on all aspects of the organization's amateur, professional and international scouting operations.

That means he is now in charge of developing the players in the Nats’ farm system that he helped scout and draft.

The upper echelon of the farm system is now loaded, especially with position players, thanks to high draft picks, numerous trades and impressive international signings over the last three years, all with Longosz’s input.

At the top of the board is top prospect Dylan Crews, this year’s No. 2 overall draft pick, reigning national champion from LSU and Golden Spikes Award winner. The other recent first-round picks include third baseman and No. 3 prospect Brady House (No. 11 overall pick in 2021) and outfielder and No. 5 prospect Elijah Green (No. 5 overall pick in 2022).

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Top prospect list includes familiar names in new order

Dylan Crews Fredericksburg

Organizational prospect rankings are by nature ever-changing. Top prospects reach the big leagues and watch their careers take off. New draft picks join the list and leapfrog other established players. Some once-touted prospects lose their steam and disappear off the radar.

But it’s notable how much the Nationals’ prospect rankings have changed in the last two years, growing from one of the least-touted groups in baseball to one that is now turning a whole lot of heads.

And it’s not necessarily all the same names everyone assumed would top the list not that long ago.

Baseball America unveiled its 2024 Top 10 ranking Monday, and while most of the names include on the list come as no surprise, the order they are listed does include a few surprises.

Headlining the group is the newest member of the organization: Dylan Crews. As one would expect, the No. 2 overall pick in this summer’s draft immediately takes over as the No. 1 prospect in the Nationals organization. (He should be a top-10 prospect in the sport once that list is unveiled later this winter.)

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Will Wood's strong season set him on path to majors in 2024?

James Wood Harrisburg red

PROSPECT REVIEW: JAMES WOOD

Age on opening day 2024: 21

How acquired: Traded with MacKenzie Gore, CJ Abrams, Robert Hassell III, Jarlin Susana and Luke Voit from Padres for Juan Soto and Josh Bell in August 2022; originally drafted in second round by Padres in 2021 from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Ranking: No. 2 (No. 7 overall) per MLB Pipeline, No. 2 (No. 7 overall) per Baseball America

MLB ETA: 2024
* Projected by MLB Pipeline

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2023 Nats All-Prospect team

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Now that the 2023 season is a wrap, we’ve taken broad looks at the year that was for the Nationals. Individual player reviews will start coming out on a daily basis this week, with Mark Zuckerman handling the major league roster and me taking a look at some of the top prospects.

But before we take a deeper dive into each player's performance, I wanted to have one overarching view of the minor league system in the form of a fun exercise.

Overall, the Nats’ minor league system did not fare too well this year in terms of win-loss records. The Dominican Summer League Nationals finished 11-39, the Florida Complex League Nationals 24-25, Single-A Fredericksburg 65-63, High-A Wilmington 55-75, Double-A Harrisburg 59-77 and Triple-A Rochester 66-80.

But among those results, there were some really strong individual performances.

“The best part of the minor league season was that all the players that we really were looking forward to take a step forward, we believe have,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We think that was a success in that regard.”

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Nats' farm system is improved but still facing change

James Wood Futures

The Nationals’ improvement at the big league level this year was important, no doubt. It wouldn’t have meant much, though, if they didn’t also see improvement at the minor league level.

This organization’s attempt to rebuild itself back into a perennial contender won’t be realized unless enough homegrown players emerge from its farm system in the next two years to supplement what’s already on the 26-man roster. In some regards, what happened nightly in Rochester, Harrisburg, Wilmington, Fredericksburg and West Palm Beach this season mattered even more than what happened in D.C.

By all accounts, the Nationals are pleased with the results. A farm system that rated in the lower-third of the sport only 18 months ago now rates in the upper-third, with several of baseball’s top prospects headlining the list.

“The best part of the minor league season was that all the players that we really were looking forward to take a step forward, we believe have,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We think that was a success in that regard.”

Not every prospect improved, though, and there is now evidence the organization isn’t 100 percent satisfied with the 2023 season. DeJon Watson, the Nationals director of player development the last two years, won’t be back in 2024, a source familiar with the decision confirmed. (The Washington Post was first to report the news Monday evening.)

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Nats announce 2023 Minor League Award winners

James Wood Harrisburg red

As we get closer to the end of the season, a new season is upon us: award season.

The Nationals kicked things off yesterday by announcing their 2023 Minor League Award winners:

* Hitter of the Year – James Wood
* Pitcher of the Year – Andrew Alvarez
* Defensive Player of the Year – Trey Lipscomb
* Baserunner of the Year – Johnathon Thomas
* Nationals Way Award – Jacob Young

Wood, 21, led the Nats’ minor league system in most offensive categories by setting a lot of career highs: first in home runs (26), RBIs (91) and slugging percentage (.520); second in OPS (.873), doubles (28) and triples (eight); and third in hits (124).

The Nats’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and Baseball America finished the season slashing .262/.353/.520 with 28 doubles, eight triples, 26 home runs, 91 RBIs, 65 walks, 18 stolen bases and 80 runs scored in 129 games between High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg.

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Top prospects still have work to do in minors

James Wood futures game

If you’re of the belief the Nationals could exceed expectations and be a surprise wild card contender next year, you’re probably also of the belief Dylan Crews and James Wood, plus perhaps Brady House and Robert Hassell III, are going to play a big role in the club’s ascension.

That may very well become reality. Any or all of those top prospects could make his major league debut in 2024 and make an immediate impact for a lineup that could use some more thump to go along with CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz and Lane Thomas.

But it’s also entirely possible none of that happens. Before any of those prospects can become contributors in D.C., they need to actually make it to D.C. And before any of them can do that, they need to actually have success in the upper levels of the minor leagues.

At this moment, all are underwhelming at Double-A Harrisburg to some extent.

Wood, widely believed to be closest to major-league-ready of this group, has mashed 16 homers and driven in 46 runs in 76 games at Double-A. That’s good. His .223 batting average and .315 on-base percentage are less good. And his 109 strikeouts in 324 plate appearances really aren’t good.

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Crews tops latest Nats prospect ranking

Dylan Crews Fredericksburg

MLB Pipeline released its midseason rankings of the top 100 prospects in baseball and the top 30 for each major league team, adding the 2023 draft class and trade deadline moves, and there’s no surprise who tops the Nationals’ list.

Dylan Crews, the No. 2 overall pick out of LSU, is the Nationals’ new top prospect, coming in at No. 1 on the team’s top 30 and No. 4 overall in the sport.

The outfielder was MLB Pipeline’s top-rated position player in this year’s draft, so it’s no wonder they hold him in high regard. But it was going to be a close call between him and fellow outfielder James Wood, who has been the Nats’ top prospect since the end of last season.

Wood is now the Nats No. 2 prospect (such a big drop) and the No. 7 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline. Both he and Crews have a major league ETA of 2024.

Third baseman Brady House is now the Nats’ No. 3 prospect while also becoming one of the highest-ranking newcomers in the top 100, landing at No. 43 after his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg earlier this summer. He rounds out the Nationals prospects in the top 100.

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Top Nats prospects excited to welcome Crews to crew (presser today)

Dylan Crews LSU yellow swing

As we await the official announcement that Dylan Crews has signed his deal with the Nationals, some top prospects are anxiously awaiting to welcome the No. 2 overall pick into the minor league system.

The New York Post’s Jon Heyman reported yesterday that Crews agreed to a deal worth about $9 million, which is over the slot value of $8,988,500. Now it’s just a matter of the team making the announcement.

While in Bowie this week, some of the top prospects in the organization with Double-A Harrisburg were excited to see the Nats select the Golden Spikes Award winner in the first round.

“I thought it was awesome. I was watching it,” said Brady House, the Nats’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and 2021 first-round pick. “I did a couple of events in high school that were like (Team) USA and all that stuff that Dylan was part of too. So I watched him all throughout his college career especially. I did a lot of watching LSU baseball this year. So I love to see it and I'm happy that he's with our organization.”

Crews is already ranked by some outlets in the top five of their top 100 prospects lists, joining the Nats’ current top prospect James Wood as two of the highest ranked outfielders in the game.

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House settling into new home in Harrisburg

Brady-House-Harrisburg-2

BOWIE, Md. – The Nationals have added another top prospect to Double-A Harrisburg’s roster. If you squint really hard, you can see the potential lineup of the next competitive team in Washington.

Just over a month after he reached High-A Wilmington for the first time, Brady House was promoted to Harrisburg earlier this week.

“It was an awesome feeling getting the call up,” House said ahead of his second Double-A game against the Bowie Baysox (Orioles) on Wednesday. “I'm sure everyone is happy and excited whenever they get the news that they're moving up somewhere. Just getting here and getting used to things and figuring things out and how they work around here, it's been nice so far. It's been a lot of fun so far.”

The Nats’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and No. 3 per Baseball America, House needed only 16 games with Wilmington before earning his next promotion. Over his two weeks in High-A ball, he slashed .317/.368/.540 with a .908 OPS, five doubles, three home runs, 13 RBIs and three stolen bases.

He wasn’t even there long enough to realize how quickly he moved on.

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Second-half storylines aplenty for Nationals

josiah gray pitches white

There was no baseball Wednesday. It’s the first time that was the case since mid-February, before pitchers and catchers reported to Florida and Arizona. It’s nice to have a little break from the action, I suppose, but it’s not something you want to experience for too long.

Fortunately, the season starts up again Friday. The Nationals will open the second half in St. Louis, then head to Chicago after that before returning home. They’ve already played 90 games, more than 55 percent of the season. But there is still much to come before everyone packs up for good after the Oct. 1 finale in Atlanta.

Let’s run through the biggest storylines of the second half for the Nats. Some of these take place on the field. Some of them take place off the field. All of them are significant in one way or another …

PROGRESS FROM THE YOUNG GUYS?
From the outset, this season always was about the development and progression of any young core players who figure into the team’s long-term plan. That means MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, CJ Abrams, Keibert Ruiz and Luis García, among others. What can we expect to see from those guys the rest of the way? Can Gore get more consistent and get to, say, 26-28 starts and 130-140 innings before the Nats decide he’s had enough? Can Gray continue what he did in the first half and finish with 32-34 starts and 170-plus innings for the first time? Can Abrams stick in the leadoff position (he looked good in his first three games there)? Can Ruiz start getting some of those hard-hit balls to fall, and show real progress behind the plate? Can García get more selective at the plate and more consistent at second base? There’s very little else that can happen on the field the rest of the season that matters more than all that.

WHO GETS TRADED AT THE DEADLINE?
We are less than three weeks away from the Aug. 1 trade deadline, and though the Nationals aren’t going to be headliners like they were the last two years, they could still be quite active. Jeimer Candelario seems the likeliest candidate to be dealt, but can Corey Dickerson do enough to make himself worthwhile to a contender as well? Is Mike Rizzo willing to part with any or all of his controllable, late-inning relievers (Kyle Finnegan, Hunter Harvey, Carl Edwards Jr.)? Is Lane Thomas part of the plan moving forward or a prime “sell high” candidate? And would there actually be a taker out there for Patrick Corbin? Rizzo may not be able to reshape his entire farm system like he did last summer, but he can make moves that will benefit the club in the long run if he plays his cards right.

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Wood, House to represent Nats at All-Star Futures Game

james wood red

The Nationals will have two of their top prospects representing the organization at next month’s All-Star Futures Game.

Outfielder James Wood and third baseman Brady House have been selected to represent the Nats in the 2023 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, the announcement coming tonight on MLB Network.

Wood, 20, is the No. 5 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America and the No. 6 prospect per MLBPipeline.com’s recently updated rankings. As the Nats’ top overall prospect per both publications, he leads the Nats’ minor league system in home runs (12), RBIs (52), slugging percentage (.536), OPS (tied for first, .903), triples (six), extra-base hits (33) and total bases (128).

From April 25 to May 28, Wood posted a 30-game on-base streak, the longest active streak in all of Minor League Baseball at the time. He hit .299 with a .415 on-base percentage and a .626 slugging percentage during that stretch.

In 66 games between High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg, Wood has hit .272 with 15 doubles, six triples, 12 homers, 52 RBIs, 37 walks, 13 stolen bases and 46 runs scored. He was promoted to Harrisburg on May 28, an early promotion compared to some of the Nats’ top prospects of the past. In the week leading up his promotion to Double-A, Wood went 9-for-19 (.474) with a double, triple, three home runs, seven RBIs, four walks, two stolen bases and eight runs scored in his last five games with the Blue Rocks.

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