WASHINGTON – Since he is not on Washington’s 40-man roster, infielder Jackson Cluff is one of the few Nationals’ prospects who was able to take part in both the 60-player pool at the alternate site in Virginia and Instructional League in Florida this month, (where MLB said players on the 40-Man could not participate, “except under certain circumstances.”).
The Nationals were slated to have an intrasquad game on Tuesday before breaking camp.
That means Cluff, 23, will head home on Wednesday to Utah – where he played in college at BYU.
“This season, if you call it a season, is coming to a close. As far as the development side of it, this Instructional League is probably more focused on fundamental stuff that you really can’t work on during the game,” Cluff, drafted in 2019 by the Nationals in the sixth round, told Federal Baseball on Monday.
“I would say at Fredericksburg we were a little more focused on just making sure you are ready to compete in case you are needed,” in the majors, he said. “There were older guys in Fredericksburg. Here in Instructional League it is a lot of first, second, and third-year (pro) guys. It is focused on getting to a point where you know how to develop your routine.”
Some of the players in Virginia at the alternate site who eventually were needed by the Nationals included outfielders Andrew Stevenson and Yadiel Hernandez, infielder Luis García and pitchers Wil Crowe, Ben Braymer, and Seth Romero.
Cluff played in 62 games with low Single-A Hagerstown in 2019 after he was drafted and hit .229 with five homers and 11 steals.
Shields was in Florida until Saturday and spent a lot of time with the BYU product.
“Cluff has been fantastic,” Shields wrote to Federal Baseball on Tuesday. “Mature, good athlete, nice swing. Going to be a nice player.”
The pandemic called off the minor league season this year, though Colorado native Cluff was able to face higher level pitchers in Fredericksburg.
He was there along with fellow infielder Drew Mendoza, who was also drafted in 2019 and played for Hagerstown the same year.
Does Cluff, mainly a shortstop, have a goal for where he might play next year?
“That’s a good question. I would rather not say or speculate where I might be. I will leave that up to the coordinators and player development staff,” Cluff said. “At the end of the day, it is out of my control. My goal is to just continue to make adjustments and make sure I am able to compete at a big-league level. That is what everyone’s goal is. The goal is to continue to work hard.”
Cluff has played all over the infield during workouts in Florida.
One of his instructors has been Jeff Garber, the co-field coordinator with Shields and a former minor league infielder in the Kansas City Royals’ system.
“I think the biggest thing you notice on a personal level, it is pretty clear really quickly how much he cares about your development,” Cluff said of Garber, who played shortstop at James Madison University in Virginia. “He is a good role model for us. He brings it every day. He brings his intensity and best effort.”
“He is just extremely positive but also straightforward about your weakness and strengths and the things you need to work on. It is just a lot of fun to work with him.”
Cluff estimated that he had about 35 to 40 at-bats in Florida in games against the Marlins or in intrasquad games.
He’ll take some time off when he gets home and then start working hard around Christmas and prepare for Spring Training.
“I think my takeaway from this year is to try and take all of the development and keep it rolling to next year,” Cluff said.
“No one is assigned (a team) for next year” with the future of the minors in limbo.
Cluff said he has not made any major mechanical changes in his swing this month. “A lot of my work has been on the mental side of hitting and having a plan at the plate and sticking to that plan,” he said.
Cluff could also compare off-the-field situations in Fredericksburg and West Palm Beach.
“COVID protocols and health protocols were pretty much the same in both places,” he said, and that included regular testing.