Young stars Green, Hassell, Wood rising for Nats

Star-studded trio gives Washington best OF prospect crop in baseball

March 24th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Just four years ago, a homegrown trio of star position players helped lead the Nationals to the only World Series title in franchise history. Now as they try to rebuild, they hope history will repeat itself.

Yes, they have a ways to go to reach the level of Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Trea Turner. But , and all rank in the upper half of MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects and headline the best collection of outfield prospects in any organization.

All three joined the Nationals last summer, with Green arriving as the No. 5 overall pick in the Draft two weeks before Hassell and Wood became part of the five-player package the Padres surrendered in exchange for Soto and Josh Bell. Green and Wood previously had played together as high school teammates at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in 2021.

The highest-ranked prospect (No. 17 on the Top 100) among the trio, Wood is a 6-foot-7, 240-pounder with well-above-average raw power and plus speed. After struggling mightily as a senior at IMG Academy, creating severe worries about his hitting ability, he has adapted to pro pitching much quicker than expected. He has slashed .326/.430/.536 with 15 homers, 30 steals and 63 walks in his first 102 pro games.

"James' strike-zone awareness and the way he manages the strike zone while attacking it is very impressive," Washington farm director De Jon Watson said. "In the outfield, he covers so much ground with his long strides. There's such a smooth pace to his game that you don't understand how quick he's moving until you have a stopwatch in your hand. It's a very unique skill set."

That said, Green (No. 46 on the Top 100) has an even higher ceiling and had more upside than anyone in the 2022 Draft. The son of former Pro Bowl tight end Eric Green, he has at least 30-30 potential and is a plus defender in center field with arm strength to match. He'll need to clean up some swing-and-miss issues but did make some encouraging progress last year.

"You just don't see guys who are 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds like Elijah who can run like the wind," Watson said. "That's a rare speed/size combination, and when he touches the ball, it goes out pole to pole. He has well-above-average raw power. It's going to be about pitch recognition and managing the strike zone. He's so exciting to watch."

He's not as physically imposing or athletically gifted as Wood or Green, but Hassell (No. 35 on the Top 100) is the best pure hitter and has the highest floor of the trio. And he's not exactly frail (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) or bereft of tools (perhaps average power to go with solid speed and arm strength) either.

"Robert has a great hit tool," Watson said. "His routes and jumps make him a good center fielder, and I can't wait to get him with [outfield and baserunning coordinator] Coco Crisp working on stealing bases. He's probably the furthest along right now in terms of managing the zone vs. higher-level competition."

The Nationals have a lot of outfield talent stacked up behind their biggest names. Cristhian Vaquero received the largest bonus ($4,925,000) in the 2022 international class and is a switch-hitter with electrifying speed and 25-homer pop. Jeremy De La Rosa is also tooled up, Daylen Lile is an advanced young hitter and 2022 draftees Brenner Cox and Jared McKenzie made promising debuts.

Camp standout:
Lipscomb barely played in his first three college seasons at Tennessee before breaking out in 2022, when he led the Southeastern Conference with 44 extra-base hits and 84 RBIs. He had a modest debut after turning pro as a third-round pick, but his bat-to-ball skills and discipline have been more apparent this spring. The third baseman has played well on the back fields and has gone 4-for-7 with a homer and three walks in Grapefruit League action.

"Trey has been killing it in big league camp," Watson said. "He has made a nice adjustment with his offensive approach, working very hard to get more balanced and use his legs more. He has improved his defense too. He shows such great poise and leadership, it's fun to watch."

Breakout potential:
One of the best pure hitters in the 2021 high school class, Lile signed for an over-slot $1.75 million but missed his entire first full pro season following Tommy John surgery last March. The outfielder has impressed with his bat and athleticism this spring, playing so well that he earned some at-bats (and going 5-for-8) in Grapefruit League games.

"Daylen manages the strike zone as well as anyone here," Watson said. "He plays hard and is an unbelievable competitor. He was swinging it so well back here that we sent him over to big league games and he showed out: quality at-bats, flying around the bases, making diving catches in the gap."

Something to prove:
Signed for $5 million as the 11th overall pick in 2021, House got off to a .341/.424/.471 start in the first month of last season. Then he tried to play through a back injury he kept to himself for a while, slumping to .220/.291/.286 in his next 25 games before getting shut down in June. His big raw power has been evident now that he's healthy again, and the Nationals have decided to shift him from shortstop to third base, where his strong arm will be an asset.

"Brady is swinging the bat well," Watson said. "We've moved him to third base and he looks more natural there. He's a very competitive young man and we love where he is right now."