Baseball season is getting closer! Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Wednesday, and Opening Day is just 40 days away! The Washington Nationals will be one of the first two games of the new season, kicking off their 2023 campaign against their NL East Rival, the Atlanta Braves.
However, we aren't there yet --- need to get through camp first.
If you're staying in the loop regarding Spring Training info, you've likely seen this list. These are the players that the Nationals have invited to Spring Training that are currently not on the roster.
Many Nationals fans, including yours truly, are very excited about the future of this team with the youngsters making their way through the farm system to get to the majors. So, it was a little disappointing to see one of the minor league prospects that we acquired in the Soto trade not get invited to camp: Robert Hassell III.
However, I think it's important to take a step back and look at some of the reasons why this might be the right call from Mike Rizzo.
1. There's no need to rush Hassell
Mike Rizzo, Davey Martinez, and all the Nationals' brass have all made their feelings known about losing (They don't like it). However, I don't believe that they are in any mad rush to get their prospects to the majors.
Hassell III, pictured top left, is one of multiple prospects that the Nationals expect to hit the majors in the next 3 seasons. The hope is that Hassell III, James Wood, and Elijah Green, among many others, will all be in the majors sooner rather than later.
With that said, I don't believe that Rizzo will rush them to the top; I don't see why he'd want to cut their development time short. He wants to make sure that they are truly ready when he calls.
Now, let me be clear. According to Mark Zuckerman of MASN, even though Hassell III didn't get an invite to Spring Training, he can still make his MLB debut for Washington this season.
2. Outfield spots are spoken for
There are currently 6 outfielders on the 40-man roster. 3 are returning players (Alex Call, Lane Thomas & Victor Robles) and 3 are new (Jeremy De La Rosa, Corey Dickerson, & Stone Garrett).
Jeremy De La Rosa is currently ranked as the #10 prospect in the Nationals system, so it's possible that he's going to see time on the field and be the first one called up ahead of Hassell. While the Nationals could use a lefty bat, just last month Mike Rizzo filled a big need of having a lefty bat in the lineup by signing Corey Dickerson (pictured) to a one-year deal, which might quell the need for the time being. And Victor Robles will be manning Center Field, Hassell's position, at least for one more season as he recently agreed to a one year deal to avoid arbitration.
So in theory, there are at least six players ahead of Robert Hassell III at the moment, and that does not even include players who can play the outfield like Joey Meneses and Dom Smith. But should the Nationals want to call up Hassell this year or next, they do have flexibility and can clear space with many of these players on expiring contracts.
3. Recent Injury
Robert Hassell III is a large part of Washington's future, there's no question about that. However, the Nationals are certainly keeping in mind that they haven't even seen the best of Robert Hassell III in the minors yet, which may explain the lack of the invite to Spring Training.
Hassell only played in 37 games in the Nationals' Minor League system last year, splitting time between High A Wilmington and AA Harrisburg with underwhelming results. He then broke his hamate bone in his hand while playing in the Arizona Fall League, which required surgery to correct. He has not played since and GM Mike Rizzo assuredly wants to ease Hassell back into action before thinking about a possible MLB Debut.
The Nationals will likely want to see more consistent production out of Hassell before they even consider a promotion to AAA Rochester, let alone the Major Leagues. Assuming he is fully recovered and resumes his production he displayed while in the Padres' system, it isn't unfathomable to think he could presumably make his debut late in 2023. But for the reasons we outlined above, it isn't necessarily likely either.
Davey Martinez and his staff have to figure out who is going to play outfield for the Nationals for the next few years. We all know who's coming up through the system, but we won't see them all together any time soon. I believe that the time leading up to Hassell's debut will be spent looking at who could be a 2 to 3 year term fixture for the Nationals in the outfield.