Cluff is rated as the No. 20 Nats prospect by MLBPipeline.com. He played his first season of pro ball at low single-A Hagerstown. Cluff said it was exciting to get a chance to work out with other Nationals players as part of the 60-man player pool.
“I think that excitement raises when you get to play at this level and face this kind of competition with the guys that are out here,” Cluff said on a Zoom call from the alternate training site. “Our job is to be ready in case we are needed somewhere else. It was cool. I was happy to be out here.”
Cluff said it was good for his progression in the professional ranks to face major league-caliber pitchers in Fredericksburg, something he didn’t see as much of while at BYU or in Hagerstown.
“The biggest thing for me was the excitement to get at-bats against quality pitchers,” Cluff said. “Every guy here has the opportunity or potential to go play at the next level. I was going into this year with the mindset to take these at-bats for what it’s worth and make improvements there, especially with not seeing any live pitching for quite some time. That was kind of my goal coming into it.”
And without that many position players in camp and a lot more pitchers, Cluff found himself getting the chance to move around the diamond a bit. For the most part at BYU, he played second base and shortstop, and he spent all of 2019 with the Suns at shortstop.
“A lot of the other positions break down off of what you are capable of doing at shortstop,” Cluff said. “This organization is pretty good at moving guys around. In practice, I’ll move over to second, move over to third, even talking about some outfield stuff or play first base. You never know where you are going to be needed and I think that’s probably the value you can add as a player. But if you can play shortstop, there’s a pretty good chance you can bounce around to other parts of the field.”
The entire minor league season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. So without a season to build at-bats in games, Cluff was honored to be one of the Nats prospects to play this summer in the professional environment in Fredericksburg, something a lot of players missed out on.
“When you break it down, just to where you are at in your game and the opportunity that we have to go out every day and get six, seven consecutive at-bats. And then to have a little more time to do one-on-one, just because the minimal amount of people that are here,” he said. “To do more one-on-one work with the hitting coordinator or infield coordinator, I definitely think there are aspects of it that allow you to make adjustments quickly and get a little more time to get one-on-one feedback.”
Off the field, Cluff leaned on teammates for sage advice on making it to the big leagues and what it takes to get there. Veteran utilityman Brandon Snyder, who played 122 games in the major leagues for Baltimore, Texas, Boston, Atlanta and Tampa Bay over a six-year span, and provided Cluff with some great insight on what it takes to get to that level and how to stay.
“Brandon Snyder, the way he carries himself around here, he’s always making it fun,” Cluff said. “I just had a one-on-one with him out on the field today for like 30 minutes talking about his time in the big leagues. He said a lot of your success builds off the kind of teammate you are and the guys here have figured that out pretty well.
“We all just kind of have fun out there and try and be good teammates and build off of each other’s success because even though we are in the development stage at the end of the day, we are all Washington Nationals. If you really want your team to win, then you want the guy on the mound, you want the guy in the box to do well.”
“Well, he struck me out today,” Cluff said of Cavalli. “I mean, he is good. The dude throws BBs. When you are throwing the ball upper-90s mph and you’re at 99, 98, 97 mph, he is good. It’s kind of been cool for me just in the three weeks that I have been here, I have been able to see him make certain improvements on the mound.
“First, he was just trying to blow it by people and control his command, but the last two weeks, he has been pretty polished as far as when he throws it off-speed and gets ahead of hitters with that fastball. When he can throw all those pitches for strikes like he did today, that’s dangerous, that’s scary. I’m glad he’s with the Nats and he’s not with someone else.”
Cluff was asked about Rutledge and said he sees talent comparable to Cavalli.
“Obviously, he’s very similar to Cade,” Cluff said. “They almost have identical approach on the mound. They are both upper 90s mph and when they are throwing the off-speed for a strike and they can throw it in any count its really difficult to hit.”
This month, Cluff is adding more experience to his resume at the fall instructional league workouts and games. The league continues through Oct. 28 at the Nats spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.