WILMINGTON, Del. – The Nationals farm system is stacked with elite prospect talent almost two years removed from the organization’s decision to rebuild.
Trading stars such as Max Scherzer and Trea Turner netted top prospects Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz, who are now a part of the young core leading the major league club. Last summer’s trade of Juan Soto and Josh Bell also brought the Nationals in return MacKenzie Gore and CJ Abrams at the big league level, while Robert Hassell III, James Wood and Jarlin Susana instantly became some of the franchise’s top prospects.
Three straight last-place finishes in the National League East gave the Nats top draft selections in Brady House and Elijah Green, with the No. 2 overall pick coming later this summer.
And of course, the Nats continue to have success signing top talent on the international market, including one of the top prospects of the 2021 class in Cristhian Vaquero, and another highly ranked prospect in Jeremy De La Rosa.
If you count them up, that’s at least five outfielders the Nationals have as top prospects in hopes of some combination of them manning the three spots in Washington on the next competitive team.
So where does that leave T.J. White, the high school outfielder out of Roebuck, S.C., whom the Nationals selected in the fifth round of the 2021 MLB Draft, before they fully committed to this rebuild?
The 19-year-old White is a top farmhand in his own right, ranking 10th in both MLB Pipeline's and Baseball America’s top 30 lists of Nats prospects. But with a logjam of outfielders, the Nationals are giving him a new path up the minor league system and toward the majors at first base.
“It’s different, but I like it,” White said of his move to first with High-A Wilmington. “I’m just trying to get the necessary reps that I need every day. I feel like it’s coming along pretty well.
“I think I’m athletic. I can catch the ball. I can make the plays to either side, it doesn’t really matter.”
The Nationals decided to make the switch at the end of last season after White played 86 games in left field for Single-A Fredericksburg. He spent all offseason working in the infield and entered spring training ready to play first full-time.
“I did do first base all offseason. Never played the outfield,” he said. “I think that helped me big time. Just coming to camp and being ready to go.”
So far, White has played 74 innings over nine games at first base for the Blue Rocks. He has a .976 fielding percentage with four double plays and two assists to only two errors. A solid start for a first-time first baseman.
“He’s come a long way,” said Wilmington manager Mario Lisson. “Starting from spring training, he has come a long way. We are happy with where he is compared to Feb. 1, when we started. Obviously, there’s a lot of improvement that needs to happen. He’s coming out every day early to work with (development coach Mark) Harris, who does a great job with the infielders. And it’s a process. Even when they get to the big leagues, they have to continue to develop and continue to work. And we’re hoping that he can continue to do that. Obviously, the bat is his No. 1 tool. We just want to make sure that that glove is close enough so he can help us on both sides of the game.”
The switch-hitter hit .258 with 20 doubles, three triples, 11 home runs and 52 RBIs over 92 games with Fredericksburg last year. He is only 6-for-29 (.207) with three RBIs to start this season with Wilmington, but he’s getting on base at a .378 clip with eight walks.
There is no concern about White’s bat at the early stages of this year. The focus, for now, continues to be his reps at first base, while Wood, De La Rosa, Jared McKenzie and Jacob Young take care of the outfield spots. That might give him the best chance to continue to move up the Nats’ system.
The Nationals don't have a true first baseman ranked as a top prospect by any major outlets. Veteran journeyman Matt Adams and minor league signing Travis Blankenhorn split first base time at Triple-A Rochester; Omar Meregildo, a 25-year-old international signee out of the Dominican, has the most reps at Double-A Harrisburg, where he hasn't advanced past since debuting there in 2021; Leandro Emiliani is the only other player with time at first in Wilmington; and 2021 third-round pick Branden Boissiere and fellow true outfielder Roismar Quintana (No. 17 per MLB Pipeline and Baseball America) split the duties at Fredericksburg.
“I think that’s where right now they can see he can get more at-bats,” Lisson said of White at first base. “It’s also a tool for him to be able to move across the minor leagues. Somebody who can play first base, play in the outfield. We know that he can play in the corners in the outfield. So now developing him to play first base, it will help him out to get where he needs to be.”
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