What to know about Nats prospects as Harrisburg Senators’ season ends

For five games, a lineup of homegrown position players maybe didn’t feel like a distant, long-shot dream for Washington Nationals fans. One was only two big steps away from the majors, playing together on the Susquehanna River in central Pennsylvania.

Yes, those Class AA Harrisburg Senators — the Harrisburg Senators with James Wood, Dylan Crews, Brady House, Robert Hassell III, Trey Lipscomb, Yohandy Morales and Andrew Pinckney — were short-lived. And no, it’s never as simple as plugging every top prospect into a future order, no matter how nice (and cost-friendly) that would be for the Nationals. Not every heralded prospect works out. In the years ahead, in order to turn toward contention again, the Nationals will need to supplement a much improved system with higher payrolls, smart free agent signings and well-timed trades, perhaps even moving one or more of the players named above.

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But when Morales and Pickney were promoted at the start of last week, it did signal one critical development for Washington’s rebuild: Wood, Crews, House, Hassell, Lipscomb, Morales and Pinckney will all almost certainly start next season in Harrisburg or above. And that means each of them will begin 2024 only one call from the big league club, whether they’re with the Senators or the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings.

The Senators’ season ended with a rainout Sunday, freezing their record at 28-40, the second-worst in the Eastern League. As ever, development matters more than team results in the minors, making it prudent to analyze Wood’s and Hassell’s strikeout rates, not why the Senators couldn’t keep pace with the Richmond Flying Squirrels. But since a month or two of incomplete data is not enough to draw meaningful conclusions with, the past five games for Harrisburg — including three wins and two losses — shouldn’t really be parsed at all.

The Nationals, though, did offer a few insights by putting seven of their notable position player prospects on the same roster for a week. Here are a handful:

They like Hassell at the top of the order. One constant of the five games was Hassell batting leadoff in each of them. The 22-year-old struggled for much of the summer, striking out in 31.9 percent of his plate appearances for the Senators. But he ended the year on a strong note, finishing with 11 hits and six strikeouts in his final six games (29 PAs). In the five-game series with the Bowie Baysox, Crews hit behind him four times and Pinckney once.

An ideal outfield alignment is to be determined. The Senators didn’t use the same outfield twice with Wood, Crews, Hassell and Pinckney on their roster. This is how that looked:

Tuesday: Hassell in left, Crews in center, Pinckney in right (Wood in the lineup as the designated hitter)

Wednesday: Pinckney in left, Wood in center, Hassell in right

Thursday: Crews in left, Hassell in center, Wood in right

Friday: Crews in left, Pinckney in center, Wood in right (Hassell DH’ing)

Saturday: Pinckney in left, Crews in center, Hassell in right (Wood DH’ing)

Crews, picked second in July’s draft, played center for LSU. Pinckney, picked in the fourth round, split his starts between center and right for the University of Alabama. Wood, who turned 21 on Sunday and leads the system with 26 homers, played a mix center and right for Harrisburg. And Hassell, acquired by the Nationals along with Wood, CJ Abrams, MacKenzie Gore and Jarlin Susana in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade, played all three outfield spots.

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House and Morales could play in the same infield. Almost as soon as Washington drafted House with the ninth pick in 2021, he seemed destined to more from shortstop to third base, a better fit for his skills and 6-foot-4 frame. And after the Nationals drafted Morales in the second round in July, he was immediately blocked by House, who had made that switch from shortstop and settled in at the hot corner.

Morales, 21, is a bat-first infielder out of the University of Miami. Twice in the last week, he played first for the Senators, showing that he and House could coexist, in theory, should Morales become a serviceable first baseman and both players stay on a similar track. After joining the organization midsummer, Morales posted a .917 OPS across four levels, including four hits, three walks and two strikes in 17 plate appearances for Harrisburg. (He curiously hit zero homers, though that’s not a huge worry given how often he made hard contact.)

House, one of the club’s most intriguing prospects, didn’t play full-time in 2023 because of the back issues that derailed his previous season. But he had a .833 OPS in 36 games for the Senators, clubbing eight doubles, two triples and three home runs.

Lipscomb’s new home is all over the diamond. When House was promoted to Harrisburg in July, Lipscomb was no longer the team’s everyday third baseman. But in the next two months, Lipscomb used that show his versatility, bouncing between third, shortstop, second and first. In the final week of the Senators’ season, he played first twice, second, short and third.

The idea is that, as long as he’s hitting, the club wants to test his flexibility while keeping his bat in the lineup, Lipscomb hit 10 homers in 80 games for Harrisburg, posting a .748 OPS. Dave Martinez, the Nationals’ manager, is a big fan, always liking players he can plug into multiple spots.

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