“The talent out there, you could see it as crazy. The lineup is crazy. You can see the pitchers really focus. I don't want to say they're scared because they're probably not, but you know, you want to think that as a hitter in a dangerous lineup. Like, ‘Yeah, they're scared of us. Let's go.’”
Robert Hassell III wasn’t describing a big league lineup when he said the above during Fall League media day. Instead, the Nationals’ No. 8 prospect was giving a breakdown of just how daunting the Double-A Harrisburg starting nine was over for the final four weeks of the Eastern League season once Dylan Crews (MLB’s No. 4 overall prospect) arrived.
Hassell, along with Crews and second-ranked Nationals prospect James Wood, made up a tremendously talented outfield triumvirate on a Minor League club. But after a right hamate break sustained on the Fall League stage last year cut into his 2023 campaign, the eighth overall pick from the 2020 Draft returns to the desert, looking to show himself as a “complete player.”
“I'm really excited to be back here,” Hassell said. “Just being a sponge and soaking it all in and taking everything I can from all these other guys and just playing my game. Main thing has been the rest, and once I've gotten over that, I feel healthy now and [ready to] just go out there and play.”
In August 2022, Hassell was MLB’s No. 21 overall prospect. When he was dealt by San Diego to D.C. in the blockbuster deal that sent Juan Soto out west, the left-handed-hitting outfielder was one of the headlining names amidst tearing up High-A pitching.
But upon his arrival with the Nats, Hassell has scuffled to make a similar impact with the bat. Over 106 games with Harrisburg this year, he slashed .225/.316/.324 with eight home runs and a 31.9 strikeout rate. Putting the ball in play has been crucial for Hassell; when he did, he batted .331, boosted by his 26.2 percent line-drive rate and propensity to utilize the opposite field (where he has delivered his highest percentage for the second straight year).
Where even the most talented of prospects often trip up is upon an introduction to the upper levels of the Minors. At just 22 years old, Hassell is roughly the same age as many of this year’s college draftees, who are just embarking on their pro ball careers. Hassell still boasts above-average run, field and arm grades, making him ultimately one of the circuit’s most captivating prospects.
“I think the biggest jump has been that there's the things that made us good coming out of college or high school as players,” Hassell said. “You really got to improve your game because the things that you could get away with because you're just more talented, that's not going to happen as much I feel like at Double-A. And for me personally, some guys are really talented. I saw different guys like [MLB’s No. 1 overall prospect, the Orioles’] Jackson Holliday come up, shoot through Double-A and he's raking in Triple-A.
“But for me, it was like, ‘Alright, now it's time to grow into a man as a baseball player and figure it out.’”
When asked if he was excited about finally putting the injury in the rearview mirror and showing people what his complete offensive profile was about, Hassell didn’t hesitate:
“One hundred percent.”
Nationals hitters in the Fall League
Trey Lipscomb, INF (No. 14): It’s been a steady climb up the Nats’ organizational ladder for Lipscomb since the club nabbed him in the third round of the 2022 Draft out of the University of Tennessee. Upon graduating from High-A Wilmington in June, his numbers actually improved (.284 average, 24.7 line-drive percentage) against advanced Double-A pitching. The 23-year-old’s 139 hits and 29 doubles during the regular season led all Washington Minor Leaguers, and among qualified batters, he ranked inside the Top 6 in ISO and wRC. In the AFL, he has gotten starts at shortstop, first and third base.
Israel Pineda, C (No. 21): Pineda is one of the few players on the fall circuit to boast -- albeit brief -- big league experience after logging 13 at-bats for the Nationals in 2022. A fractured right pinkie finger and left oblique strain kept him from returning to the level this season, as he appeared in just 41 games, primarily at Double-A. While his bat lagged, the 23-year-old continued his stalwart defensive work, upping his career caught-stealing rate to 40.6 percent.
Nationals pitchers in the Fall League
DJ Herz, LHP (No. 16): Acquired as part of the return package for Jeimer Candelario at the Trade Deadline in July, the 22-year-old flashed electric stuff in his eight-start stint for Harrisburg after the deal. His 12.7 K/9 over the course of the year ranked him third among all Double-A hurlers with at least 70 innings at the level. One of just 10 arms among club’s Top 30 Prospects list to be equipped with a changeup that grades out as a 65 or higher (on the 20-80 scouting scale), Herz utilizes the low-80s mph offering as a terrific compliment to his 91-94 mph heater and low-80s slider.
Orlando Ribalta, RHP: Name a Nationals affiliate and Ribalta pitched for them in 2023. Equipped with a 92-96 mph fastball and slider/cutter hybrid offering, the 6-foot-7 Cuban native posted a 3.89 ERA during his circuitous journey through the Minors. A repeat Fall Leaguer, it’ll be tough for the 12th-round selection to top his previous stint, when he didn’t allow a run across 10 1/3 frames.
Holden Powell, RHP: In the same vein as Ribalta, Powell made appearances this season from the Rookie-level Nats all the way up to Triple-A Rochester. A former closer at UCLA, the 24-year-old boasts a power mix of a mid-90s mph heater, a low-90s sinker and a slider/cutter hybrid. While walks have proven persnickety throughout his Minors tenure, the club’s third-round choice from the 2020 Draft has yielded just two homers in 56 2/3 career innings.
Jack Sinclair, RHP: Few relievers were as dominant at the lower levels in 2022 than Sinclair, who posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.85 WHIP across 53 frames. His numbers backed up a bit as he spent the majority of the year at Double-A but he still struck out better than a batter per inning while featuring a low-90s sinker and low-80s slider; that combo was hellacious vs. right-handed batters in particular, who delivered just a .585 OPS against the 16th-rounder this season.
Thaddeus Ward, RHP: The 26-year-old is back in the Fall League for the second consecutive season after right shoulder inflammation limited him to just 58 1/3 innings between his time in the big leagues and the Minors this year. Selected with the first overall pick in the Major League phase of the 2022 Rule 5 Draft, Ward primarily operated with his sinker, sweeper and cutter mix out of the Nationals’ bullpen where walks (28) and home runs (seven) cropped up with an elevated frequency across his first 26 outings in The Show.