Last month, I visited Fredericksburg to watch the Nationals' prospect-laden Low-A affiliate in person.
Over the weekend, I decided to do the same thing in Harrisburg. I was in attendance for two Double-A Senators games at FNB Field, and came away with a better sense of where some of Washington's top prospects stand in their development.
The games themselves had very mixed results. The Senators lost 6-1 to the Erie SeaWolves, the Detroit Tigers Double-A affiliate on Friday night, but then bounced back to defeat Erie 7-0 on Saturday.
The more important exercise, as was the case in Fredericksburg, is to take a closer look at the players who could play a role at the major league level.
The starting pitchers in each game were both among Washington's top 30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline.
Cole Henry (No. 12) didn't have one of his better starts on Friday. Henry, who is in the process of rehabbing from thoracic outlet surgery, surrendered four runs on five hits over two and two-thirds innings. His start was rumored to have been pushed back by a day due to illness, and his velocity was noticeably lower than normal by the third inning - during which all four of the runs he allowed crossed the plate. Therefore, it stands to reason that he may have still been battling the effects of his sickness.
For this reason, on top of the fact that he's been highly effective this year and throughout his professional career, this start wasn't worth worrying about. Earlier in the night, his fastball was in its typical mid-90s range. As I was sitting behind home plate, I can attest that his pitches also had plenty of late life on them. He simply wore down quicker than normal - and to the team's credit, they got him out of the game.
Saturday's starter was left-hander Mitchell Parker (No. 22). After a stellar 2022 season in which Parker pitched to a 2.88 ERA in High-A Wilmington, he was struggling pretty mightily in Double-A. On Saturday, however, Parker was lights out. The southpaw was dominant over seven shutout innings, allowing only one hit and tossing 54 of his 87 pitches for strikes.
This highlights what has been a resurgent stretch for Parker. He's dropped his season-long ERA by nearly three runs in the last two months. Aside from a start on May 16 in which he allowed eight runs, he's pitched to a 2.19 ERA since the calendar flipped from April to May.
For what it's worth, Jackson Rutledge (No. 11) pitched just before I arrived in town - ironically, as the replacement starter for Henry. Rutledge gave up two runs over seven innings and struck out six batters. By all accounts, it was essentially in line with how he's performed all season up to this point.
Third baseman Trey Lipscomb (No. 18) had a strong pair of games at the plate. The recently promoted 2022 third-round draft pick went 3-for-4 on Thursday night, and then added an RBI single on Saturday. He also only struck out once in his eight plate appearances.
The lone aspect of Lipscomb's game that was somewhat concerning was his defense. Although it wasn't alarming, he didn't look like an above-average third baseman. Some of his throws lacked the zip behind them that I was expecting, and he also sat back on a ground ball in Friday's game and turned what looked like a routine out into an infield hit. Still, he looks like a potential big leaguer.
Robert Hassell III (No. 2) had perhaps the strangest pair of games of the bunch. He was the starting left fielder in both games, and went 2-for-8 with two singles and two strikeouts. He was also caught stealing once. However, the real story was a sequence that led to him getting ejected.
In his sixth-inning Friday at bat, Hassell had a swinging strike called on him, although it was apparent that he checked his swing. After he and the dugout exchanged words with the home plate umpire, Hassell reached first base on a fielder's choice. The war of words didn't end, though. On a routine play in which he ran towards second base on a foul ball, he complained to the second base umpire on the way back to first. Whatever he said got him ejected, and his manager was subsequently also tossed after running on-field to defend his player.
Hassell was also as frequent as any other hitter to call timeouts in the batter's box, and he seemed insistent on hitting to the opposite field instead of pulling the ball. For someone as boisterous and highly-touted as he is, it would be nice to see more productivity. Entering Tuesday, he's batting .222 with a .644 OPS, both of which fall well short of expectations.
Fellow outfielder James Wood was a bit more boom or bust - aside from the fact that he wasn't ejected. The 6-foot-7 lefty slugger played center field on Friday, and then right field on Saturday. In the two games, he went 3-for-7 with two strikeouts.
The downside is that his plate appearances featured a fair amount of swing-and-miss. That didn't always result in strikeouts, but it would be nice to see him make contact more frequently. To that end, he's batting .243 with 26 strikeouts in 70 at bats since being promoted from Wilmington a few weeks ago.
On the other hand, his power was on full display. He bashed a stand-up triple to the deepest part of the park towards right-center field in the ninth inning of Friday's game. Then he demolished a pull-side home run that I'd estimate travelled close to 450 feet on Saturday, ricocheting back into the field of play after hitting the top of the scoreboard.
Speedy center fielder Jacob Young was promoted to Harrisburg prior to Saturday's game, replacing Blake Rutherford, who was elevated to Triple-A Rochester. Young went 2-for-3 with a walk on Saturday and 1-for-4 on Sunday. As a borderline top 30 prospect himself who stole 52 bases last season, it will be interesting to see whether Young's insertion restricts Hassell and Wood to the outfield corners full-time.
Any of these players could easily find themselves in Triple-A by early next season, if not sooner. At that point, they'd be one call away from the majors.