After the completion of the regular season and alternate training sites, most player development staffs have turned their attention to instructional league play. In the past, instructional leagues have been populated by new draftees, recent international signings and players at the bottom rungs of their organizational ladder. This year, in an attempt to make up for lost time due to the pandemic, it’s been expanded to include many more players. MLB Pipeline will be providing position-by-position reports from instructional league camps in Florida and Arizona.
Joan Adon, RHP (No. 16); Tomas Alastre, RHP; Pablo Aldonis, LHP; Mirton Blanco, RHP; Zachary Brzykcy, RHP; Tim Cate, LHP (No. 8); Cade Cavalli, RHP (No. 2); Matt Cronin, LHP (No. 10); Mason Denaburg, RHP (No. 7); Tyler Dyson, RHP (No. 17); Jose Ferrer, LHP; Steven Fuentes, RHP (No. 26); Niomar Gomez, RHP; Angel Guillen, RHP; Cole Henry, RHP (No. 4); Alfonso Hernandez, LHP; Jake Irvin, RHP (No. 21); Andrew Karp, RHP; Gabe Klobosits, RHP; Lucas Knowles, LHP; Andy Lara, RHP (No. 5); Evan Lee, LHP; Mitchell Parker, RHP; Todd Peterson, RHP; Holden Powell, RHP (No. 30); Orlando Ribalta, RHP; Carlos Romero, RHP; Jackson Rutledge, RHP (No. 1); Bryan Sanchez, RHP; Reid Schaller, RHP (No. 18); Karlo Seijas, RHP; Jackson Tetreault, RHP; Edward Ureña, RHP; Eddy Yean, RHP (No. 6)
With 18 pitchers ranked on their Top 30 Prospects list, including the entire top 10, the Nationals have quietly assembled one of the deepest crops of arms in baseball. Many of those promising young hurlers have stood out this fall during the team’s instructional camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., where club officials have been impressed not just with the quantity of arms in the system, but the quality as well.
“The volume of upside arms we have right now is something we’ve never had before,” said Nationals assistant general manager of player development Mark Scialabba.
Headlining that group are recent draftees Cavalli and Henry, Washington’s respective first- and second-round picks this year, as well as 2019 draftees Rutledge (first round) and Cronin (fourth). All four hurlers offered a glimpse of their potential during a recent showcase game, which, for many in the organization, marked their first look at the collective group.
“It was dominance from top to bottom,” said Scialabba. “Cronin finished it off with an immaculate inning: nine fastballs, nine swinging strikes, three strikeouts.”
Yean’s prospect stock has continued to rise with his strong performance in instructional camp. Signed for $100,000 in July 2017, the 19-year-old right-hander opened eyes with his stuff and performance in ’19, finishing his age-18 campaign in the Class A Short-Season New York-Penn League.
“He looks even bigger and more powerful than he did last year,” Scialabba said about Yean. “The other day he was throwing 96-97 mph power sinkers and four-seamers up, with a hard 86-88 mph slider and a changeup he can throw for strikes. If he had been coming out of the Draft this year, there weren’t many guys who look like him.”
Fifth-round pick Parker has looked good in his first instructional camp, mixing a high-spin, heavy fastball with a plus curveball. Right-handers Tyler Dyson and Todd Peterson, fifth- and seventh-round picks in ’19, also have impressed: Dyson’s been up to 96-97 mph with his fastball and has demonstrated better feel for his breaking ball, while Peterson’s heater has reached 98 mph.
After playing the outfield primarily and only pitching occasionally at the University of Arkansas, left-hander Lee has become a name to watch in Washington’s system. A 15th-round pick in 2018, Lee has touched 96 mph in instructional camp, with a power breaking ball that has a chance to be a plus pitch. Right-hander Brzykcy struggled to throw strikes at Virginia Tech (10.5 BB/9) but has already improved in that area since signing with Washington as a non-drafted free agent.
“He’s a power-arm, bulldog type who sits at 96-97 mph, with a curveball, slider and changeup,” said Scialabba. “He’s controlling his fastball now and just going right after guys. It’s a power reliever profile … he could be a quick mover in the bullpen.”
Geraldi Diaz; Mason Doolittle; Brady Lindsly; Ivan Murzi; Wilmer Perez; Israel Pineda (No. 14); Ray Torres
Pineda, 20, spent a portion of the summer at Washington’s alternate training site in Fredericksburg and was able to hit the ground running at instructional camp. Signed for $450,000 in July 2016, Pineda has stood out most for his right-handed bat early in his career, though Nats club officials believe the Venezuelan backstop’s defense is beginning to catch up.
“He did a good job of improving his skills defensively, especially blocking balls, sequencing, handling pitchers,” said Scialabba about Pineda’s gains behind the plate.
Defense has never been an issue for fellow 20-year-old Diaz, a solid receiver with soft hands and a consistent, accurate throwing arm. And with his left-handed bat now coming along as well, the Dominican native is looking more and more like a future big leaguer.
“His plate discipline is advanced for a young kid … he takes professional at-bats and doesn’t chase,” said Scialabba. “He just has a quiet confidence about him.”
Injuries including Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2019 campaign have beset Yasel Antuna’s development since the Nats inked him for $3.9 million, a franchise record for an international amateur, during their 2016-17 spending spree. But a clean bill of health this season seemingly has the the 20-year-old switch-hitter back on track, and after standing out over the summer as one of the top hitters at Washington’s alternate site, he’s continued to draw rave reviews at instructional league.
“He has looked like the most advanced bat we have here,” said Scialabba. “His ability to consistently barrel the ball and the way his hands are working … he’s just in a great place. We feel like the bat is legit and going to impact us down the road, hopefully soon. He just needs to keep getting at-bats.”
The Nationals are similarly high on the bat of Infante -- a second-round compensation pick whom the club signed to an above-slot bonus of $1 million -- and believe that the 19-year-old will grow into an offensive performer.
“He’s a hitter who’s going to be aggressive on fastballs and stay through the ball very well with a short compact swing,” said Scialabba.
Peña, 19, doesn’t have the offensive ceiling of an Antuna or Infante, but he’s still another young infielder in Washington’s system worth following, especially after he batted .359/.455/.481 over 37 games in last year’s Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
“He might have the best ability of anyone to repeat his swing and hit the ball on the barrel,” said Scialabba. “He’s obviously undersized, but he shows that he belongs. He turned on 98 mph the other day and can also hit the ball where it’s pitched.”
Youth is a common theme among Nats outfielders in instructional camp, with five of the 11 players in that group checking in at age-20 or younger, including several notable international signees from recent years. De La Rosa, 18, stands at the forefront of the group, thanks to the across-the-board tools he’s shown since signing for $300,000 in July 2018. Marte and Quintana aren’t far behind, though, and both players have an up arrow next to their name after showing more impact potential at the plate this fall.
“He’s been the guy in camp who has really shined,” said Scialabba about the 18-year-old Marte, a 2018-19 international signee ($300,000) from the Dominican Republic. “He’s a physical guy but a plus runner -- he looks like an NFL running back -- with a plus arm who has a chance to stay in center field.
“The ball explodes off his bat. He’s hit two home runs to left field, including one into the wind at Jupiter that we thought had no chance of getting out, but landed on the grass in left field. Without wind, it might have been up on the building.”
Quintana, 17, received the third largest bonus in Washington’s 2019-20 international class, signing for $820,000 at the outset of the period. He flashed some serious strength and power for a younger player during his first instructional camp and is doing so again this year, albeit after being limited early by some leg tightness.
“He has as powerful of a swing as anyone we have in the system,” Scialabba noted. “He has that right-center power that’s going to translate really well to games.”