Top prospects to play in Futures Game; non-roster invitees face opt-out deadline

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – All of the Nationals’ top prospects still in big league camp will be coming north with the team and will be at Nationals Park for Tuesday’s exhibition finale. Playing for the team of prospects set to face the Opening Day major league roster that afternoon.

The organization announced Tuesday that top prospects James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House, Trey Lipscomb and Robert Hassell III will be among the players participating in the first “On Deck: Nationals Futures Game.” The insinuation: None of those players is going to make the Opening Day roster, though all technically are still in the running heading into the final five days of spring training.

The Nationals did not reveal the full Prospects roster, but in addition to the above five players, they did say Darren Baker, Drew Millas, Jackson Rutledge, DJ Herz and Amos Willingham will be on the team. More names for the scheduled 12:05 p.m. game will be announced later.

The Nats have hosted an exhibition game on South Capitol Street nearly every season since the ballpark opened in 2008, but that game traditionally has been played against another major league club scheduled to open its regular season on the East Coast (often the Yankees or Red Sox). This year for the first time they will face top minor leaguers from the organization, giving many of them a chance to play in a big league stadium for the first time and fans a chance to see these young players in person for the first time.

A good number of those prospects, of course, have received plenty of playing time in major league camp this spring. And Wood, Crews, House, Lipscomb, Hassell and Millas all currently remain in camp, with 13 healthy players still needing to be cut to get the roster down to 26 in time for the March 28 season opener at Cincinnati.

Though club officials have never explicitly said it, none of the prospects has been expected to make the team coming out of spring training. Most have never played above Double-A, and all likely need more development before they’re ready to debut sometime later this year.

Asked Sunday why top prospects in their first big league camp weren’t cut earlier (as would traditionally be the case), manager Davey Martinez noted the value of the experience they’ve been getting all spring.

“I like watching them play, I’m not going to lie to you,” Martinez said. “And I want to keep them here, keep the conversations going as long as I possibly can. They’re doing well, and they’re playing the game the right way. We’ll keep them here as long as (general manager Mike Rizzo) allows me to keep them, and then we’ll do something else.”

All players who participate in Tuesday afternoon’s exhibition – big league and minor league – will also attend the club’s annual Homecoming Gala that evening at The Anthem on the Southwest waterfront.

* Three veteran players hoping to make the club off minor league deals have the ability to opt out of those contracts beginning Friday afternoon, according to FanGraphs.

Eddie Rosario, Jesse Winker and Matt Barnes all signed with the Nationals as Article XX(B) free agents, which means each has at least six years of major league service time and ended the 2023 season on an MLB roster or injured list.

All such players are guaranteed the right to opt out of their deals beginning at 2 p.m. EDT Friday. Teams then have until noon Sunday to add the players to their 40-man roster or release them.

Rosario has looked like a safe bet to make the Opening Day roster since signing his deal, which guarantees $2 million if he makes the club (plus incentives), earlier this month. The 32-year-old probably will be the regular left fielder, with some opportunities to play center field as well.

Winker and Barnes (who also both would make $2 million in base salary, plus incentives) are less assured of making the team, though each seems to have a leg up on the competition for their respective jobs. Winker, 30, could be a fourth outfielder who gets some time in left field and designated hitter while also providing a left-handed bat off the bench. Barnes, 33, could be one of a host of right-handers with late-inning experience in the Nats bullpen.

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