Nats' prospects bring heat, energy to Spring Breakout

March 16th, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The inaugural Spring Breakout saw the Nationals' top prospects from across affiliate levels take the field together in a big-picture snapshot of the club’s future.

From players who were in high school last year to those who are knocking on the door at the big leagues, the exhibition game was another step in the Nats’ development.

“[My favorite moment was] watching the kids compete,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who also managed the Spring Breakout game. “I really enjoyed it. I really enjoy the kids. The dugout was full of energy, they were all in it. So it was a lot of fun.”

The Nationals dropped the matinee, 4-2, to the Mets at Clover Park. Here are the standout moments:

No. 25 prospect Henry K's side
Right-hander Cole Henry, who returned last season from thoracic outlet surgery, was dominant. The 24-year-old fanned Alex Ramírez, Colin Houck and Jesus Baez in the second inning.

Henry worked an eight-pitch at-bat against Ramírez to locate a 95.5 mph sinker in the zone on a full count for a called third strike. Henry froze Houck on an 81.8 mph slider in a 2-2 count, and he needed just four pitches to catch Baez swinging at a 95.3 mph sinker.

“I just tried to go out there and be confident in myself and my stuff, and just tried to hit [catcher Drew] Millas in the chest,” Henry said. “That was the main goal today: just let it flow down the mound pretty easy and leave it all out there.”

Henry was added to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 Draft in November, and he appeared in three Spring Training games before being optioned to Triple-A Rochester on Monday.

No. 10 Susana clocks 103 mph
Heat-throwing right-hander Jarlin Susana, 19, began his outing by reaching triple digits on all six of his pitches to Marco Vargas, including a 103 mph fastball that landed inside in a full-count walk.

Susana’s fastball usually sits around 97-99 mph and has an MLB Pipeline scouting grade of 70 (scale of 20-80). Acquired from the Padres in the Juan Soto blockbuster trade, Susana played at Single-A Fredericksburg last season.

“Susana, I’ve seen him, but that’s the first time I’ve seen him compete,” Martinez said. “When that ball comes out, it’s on you quick. We’ve noticed he gets quick in his delivery, so just got to get him to kind of slow down a little bit, keep attacking that strike zone. He’s going to be a good one.”

No. 11 Sykora cool under pressure in first pro game
This time last year, Travis Sykora was a senior in high school. The Spring Breakout marked the first pro-level game for the 2023 third-round Draft pick.

“I just know when I came in from pitching, they handed me a glass of water and my hand was shaking -- like, my water was shaking out of the glass,” said Sykora, 19. “I was like, ‘I’ve never seen that before.’ I’ve never had that much adrenaline.”

With friends and family in the stands from Texas, Sykora delivered a scoreless inning on just seven pitches. His most memorable moment was striking out Jett Williams (Mets’ No. 1 prospect, No. 45 overall), whom he knows from high school baseball.

“[Sykora] came out of the game and I put my hand on his chest and it was probably going a thousand miles,” Martinez said. “He was pumping strikes, he was really good tonight. For his first time ever pitching in professional baseball, that was pretty impressive.”

Millas knows the zone
Millas, the Nats' No. 20 prospect, exemplified why he is lauded for being a defensive catcher. With the Spring Breakout implementing the Automated Ball-Strike challenge system (ABS), Millas successfully overturned two balls when Henry and Sykora were on the mound.

“I better trust him now when he says, ‘That ball was a strike,’” Martinez said.

Lile travels with Spring Breakout team following injury scare
Prior to the game, No. 7 prospect Daylen Lile provided an update on the lower back contusion he sustained tumbling over the right-field wall chasing a home run ball at JetBlue Park on March 2. Lile, who was carted off on a stretcher, has returned to baseball activity. He has been cleared to participate in workouts -- including batting practice, throwing and running -- but not yet games.

“It’s getting better gradually each and every day,” said Lile, 21. “It’s a blessing I’m not going backwards, I’m going upward at this point.”

Lile had hoped to be ready to play in the Spring Breakout but now has a target of playing in back-field games next week. After having already missed the 2022 season because of Tommy John surgery, Lile’s goal for this year is to play 162 games.

“Scared,” Lile said of what was going through his mind during recovery. “I thought something was going to be taken away from me. But I’m blessed to be back out there with the guys, getting to talk to them, just be around them, so I’m feeling good.”