Down on the Farm: My Night at the Fred Nats

Washington Nationals v Detroit Tigers
Washington Nationals v Detroit Tigers / Mark Cunningham/GettyImages

On Saturday, I made a made a game-time decision to take a trip down I-95 to watch the Fredericksburg Nationals host the Down East Wood Ducks at Virginia Credit Union Stadium. Although the Low-A Fred Nats dropped the contest 9-4, I came away impressed with some of their most highly-touted player prospects, with outfielder Daylen Lile leading the charge.

Barring something wild, the game was decided almost immediately. Starting pitcher Jose Atencio put the team in a quick 6-0 hole, giving up four runs in the top of the first inning and two more in the second.

By the end of the night, the Fred Nats had surrendered 16 hits, including three-hit games for three different batters.

The Fred Nats lineup isn't entirely without fault, as they (including Armando Cruz and Lile - two of the team's second-tier prospects that I was looking to assess) struck out in order in the first inning, and proceeded to only muster six hits on the night. But still, they were faced with an uphill battle. Plus, to be candid, opposing starting pitcher Aidan Curry simply looked good - sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, against a radar gun that seemed to be reading a couple miles per hour too slow all night.

Still, I walked away encouraged by three important players: Cruz, Lile, and top five organizational prospect Brady House.

Notice who I didn't say. Aside from speed, I didn't see a lot that left me impressed from top-flight prospect Elijah Green - who was the designated hitter, with Johnathon Thomas filling in as the center fielder. In fact, it appeared that Green may have had a slight limp as he left the field after being thrown out at second on the front end of a double play in the bottom of the ninth. That's pure speculation, but it may partially explain why he was in a reduced role Saturday night.

Nonetheless, Green (last year's No. 5 overall draft pick) went 1-for-4 with a hard hit single down the third base line, two strikeouts and a groundout in which he reached on a "throwing error" - although I contend that he simply beat the throw to first base, anyway.

In Cruz's case, my stance was largely driven by his defense. Oddly enough, there weren't any balls that were hit his way that required him to make much of a play. However, there were a couple relay throws to third base that caught my eye. One was inconsequential, but made an easy play by the runner much closer than it should've been. The other was in the third inning and turned a would-be-triple into an out on a bullet throw from 10-15 feet behind the "five-point-five hole" onto the left field grass.

For Lile, the success was on both ends. He hit for a bad luck 0-for-4 with two well-struck balls into the outfield, and he also notched two outfield assists - including throwing out a runner at the plate in the seventh inning.

To that end, although there were no clear weather-related elements at play, the ball wasn't traveling as well as it normally does. One - and arguably both - of Lile's flyouts should've at least flirted with the outfield wall on a normal night.

Similarly, House crushed a ball that turned into a flyout to right field, just shy of the warning track to end the eighth inning. That capped off a similarly unlucky 0-for-4 for the third baseman, but he looked plenty comfortable and "hitterish" in the batter's box, much like Lile. He also made a nice defensive play in the first inning, ranging onto the infield grass towards second base and throwing out a speedy runner at first. Then in the eighth, he made a diving pick towards the third base line and fired a strong throw to first that reminded me of a perennial All Star that I compared him to when Washington drafted him.

The other fringe top 30 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, that played in the game was outfielder Brenner Cox, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, but notched an assist of his own from right field.

Outfielder-turned-first-baseman Roismar Quintana didn't play, nor did their two pitching prospects in the organization's top 10. Neither did second baseman Sammy Infante - although I'm 99 percent certain I ran into the young slugger, who is currently on the injured list, in the stands after the game ended (and if it was him, his official 6-foot-1 listing in his bio needs to be bumped up by an inch or two, because I'm 5-foot-11 and he towered over me).

Three more players you may not know who stood out to me were relief pitcher Miguel Gomez, first baseman Branden Boissierre (a former third-round draft pick) and backup catcher Matt Suggs. Gomez struggled with command, but struck out three batters over two scoreless innings with a seemingly deceptive arsenal of pitches. Boissierre - who has mostly struggled since reaching the pros in 2021 - looked as comfortable and confident in the box as anyone, en route to a 2-for-4 night. And then Suggs threw out an attempted base stealer, and also did this.

I left with two clear takeaways that I'll also leave you with: Elijah Green is still figuring out how to "slow the game down" at the plate (which was already known, based on his nearly 50 percent strikeout rate), and Daylen Lile is severely underrated. A former second-round pick who has since undergone Tommy John surgery, Lile has arguably been the team's best hitter this season - although he and House have both had immense success. Yet, he's become a relatively unknown player among the national baseball audience. With what he's done this season and what I saw Saturday night, that should change rapidly. There's not much that separates him as a hitter from Robert Hassell III, who was one of the jewels acquired in return for Juan Soto and much closer to making his big league debut.

If you haven't watched the Fred Nats live or via MiLB.TV, you should do so soon. The team has exciting players, and they might not all be there for much longer - especially House. Within the next three years, some of the players I've discussed will find themselves in Washington.