WASHINGTON – For the first time since March, baseball activities are taking place on the Nationals’ side of the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach that the club shares with the Houston Astros.
“From a baseball workout perspective, that is the case,” Mark Scialabba, assistant general manager, player development, told Federal Baseball on Thursday from Florida.
Instructional League began Saturday with the first game set for October 6 against the Marlins.
With an eye on safety amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the Nationals will only play one other organization, according to Scialabba.
“As of right now, we are just playing the Marlins. That is subject to change,” Scialabba said. “That is basically about four times a week. We have some intrasquad games to maximize the reps.”
“Everything is going well so far,” Scialabba added. “We are following protocol and making sure everybody is safe and healthy. Once we get on the field, we’re trying to make it as normal and comfortable for the players so they can get their work in and continue their development.”
Scialabba said those players who were not part of the 60-player pool this summer are eager to begin games.
There were no minor league games held in North America this season due to the pandemic.
“Most definitely; we are having some short (simulated) games now. I know our players are excited to see another colored jersey,” Scialabba said. “They have been in touch with our staff throughout the summer; they are just thrilled to be here.”
“It is a credit to our ownership group, the Lerner family, and (general manager) Mike Rizzo to make sure we had this camp. Obviously, it is a big investment financially,” Scialabba added. “You have to give them a lot of credit to step up to the plate to allow us to have this camp and develop our future.”
There are about 65 players in camp, including 35 pitchers, according to Scialabba.
Some of the top pitching prospects in camp include Cade Cavalli, the first-round pick from this year out of the University of Oklahoma; Jackson Rutledge, the top pick in 2019 out of a junior college in Texas; Mason Denaburg, a first-round pick in 2018 out of a Florida high school; Cole Henry, a second-round pick out of LSU this year; Holden Powell, drafted in the third round this year out of UCLA; and Tim Cate, a lefty taken out of the University of Connecticut in the second round in 2018.
Some of the best positions players in West Palm Beach include infielders Drew Mendoza and Jackson Cluff; catcher Israel Pineda; and outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa – all were part of the 60-player pool at some point this summer and De La Rosa, 18, was the youngest player at the alternate site in Fredericksburg.
Mendoza, Cluff, Rutledge, and Cate all played for low Single-A Hagerstown at some point in 2019.
Lefty pitcher Seth Romero is the only player at the Instruction League who appeared in a game with the Nationals this season, according to Scialabba.
The product of the University of Houston is an unusual situation: he had not appeared above the Single-A level prior to 2020 due to injuries and off-field issues, then was used in three games out of the bullpen by the Nationals before he went on the Injured List with a broken right (non-throwing) hand suffered in a fall away from the field, according to the team.
The Spring Training home of the Nationals shut down in March due to COVID-19 concerns, along with other such venues in Florida and Arizona.
“We had to follow our own protocols and follow CDC guidelines” to set up Instructional League, Scialabba said. “Many of the same protocols we followed at the alternate site (in Virginia) that Major League Baseball outlined. We want to make sure we keep our players safe on the field and off. We want to create as much of a bubble effect as we can so our players are safe.”
The camp runs through the end of October.