Former Arizona State center fielder Gage Canning started last season at low Single-A Hagerstown, but after 10 games, moved up to high Single-A Potomac in mid-April. The 23-year-old hit .243/.311/.378 with 30 doubles, nine triples, 10 homers and 68 RBIs.
Single-A Fredericksburg Nationals manager Tripp Keister expects to see more of Canning this season in the Carolina League.
“Canning finished the year with us,” Keister said. “He looked like a guy that was going to come back. If you looked at his numbers early, they weren’t as good as the end of the season. He really finished strong and had a much better at-bats, and I was excited about him coming in.”
Outfielder Cody Wilson, 23, got into five spring training games with the Nationals, going 2-for-5 with a double in five at-bats. He has demonstrated exceptional skill and again is working on his bat for 2020.
“He was another one that made quite an impression at camp,” Keister said. “He had a lot of games that he went over and played on the big league side and was really playing well defensively, a fantastic defensive outfielder. Has always just needed to get a little bit more consistency offensively. He was a guy I was looking forward to getting a chance to work with.”
Third baseman/first baseman Drew Mendoza played in 55 games with Hagerstown and had a lot of coordinators talking about his play and potential.
“I got to see him in instructional league and in spring training. He is a middle-of-the-order bat, uses the whole field,” Keister said. “He came in really in good shape in his first spring training. Mendoza had made some adjustments with his swing. I was excited to see him.”
Shortstop Jackson Cluff made an impression on Keister as well.
“Jackson Cluff was another one. I had heard a lot about him,” Keister said. “He was good in instructional league. He looks like he could really swing it playing shortstop. I was excited to get the chance to be around some of those guys on a daily basis.”
Wilson and Jeremy De La Rosa were a pair of outfielders that hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich told us to keep an eye on. Keister agreed with that assessment from what he saw during their spring training workouts.
“I’m with the outfield group. Cody Wilson and Jeremy De La Rosa, I am around them every day,” he said. “Both of those guys are tooled out and I am excited to see their growth that is for sure.”
An important point about prospects and how they progress: Keister said to not always get hung up on a box score or a batting line for a player. That does not always tell the whole story, especially to begin a season.
A lot of times, we report a prospect’s slash line and yearly numbers because that is all we have to show what they did last season. Keister reminded those that make assessments on players just from the box score to reserve judgment.
A great case can be made for top prospect Carter Kieboom at the beginning of the 2018 campaign, when he was hitting .187 for Potomac and then two months later got to .303 right before his promotion to Double-A.
“There are people that you go and look at (statistics) and go, ‘Oh, man, that guy is not very good’ as a fan,” Keister said. “But you don’t see what is going on day to day. I remember Carter Kieboom at the beginning of the year in 2018. He started off and he was hitting like under .200 maybe 18 games into the season. I remember some people were like that were just looking at the box scores and saying, ‘Man, what’s going on with Carter? is he OK?’ He was having really good at-bats, hitting balls hard and they were getting caught. Quite frankly, he had some tough luck. He had a couple of bat at-bats, but he was fine.
“I was like, ‘What do you mean about Carter? He is fine.’ Trust me, don’t trust that (stat line). You can’t tell all by that batting average sometimes. And then here he is, he turns around and he has a fantastic first half and then he gets promoted at the All-Star break. You can’t judge by numbers sometimes, you have to judge by being there, watching them go about their business, watching how their at-bats are getting better every game, watching how they are working. That is a big deal because you have to work. You can’t get to the big leagues and not work.
“People try to judge by a box score and you can’t judge how a player is doing by the box score. That is why it is our job to make sure they are continuing to work, staying positive, working on the right things, that is our job.”