Jackson Cluff, a 2019 6th Round pick out of Brigham Young University, was added to the 60-Man Player Pool for the 2020 season back on August 28th, so the 23-year-old infielder, (who put up a .313/.442/.481 line in two seasons and 96 games at BYU and a .229/.320/.367 line in 62 games at Low-A Hagerstown in his first pro season in ‘19), got a few weeks of work at the Washington Nationals’ Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia this summer to test himself against some of the high-end arms in the organization.
“The biggest thing for me was the excitement to get at bats against quality pitchers,” Cluff said in a Zoom call with reporters on Saturday afternoon.
“I mean, the guys here, every guy here has the opportunity or the potential to go play at the next level, potentially this year [or in coming years].
“For me this year, I was going into this year with the mindset to take these at bats for what it’s worth and try to make improvements there, especially with not seeing live pitching for quite some time, so that was my goal coming into it.”
Ranked No. 22 on MLB Pipeline’s list of the top prospects in the Nats’ organization, Cluff, described by Pipeline scouts as a, “... steady, confident defender at shortstop with good range and instincts as well as a plus arm,” whose bat is behind his defense, said he loved working closely with the coaches and other players in Fredericksburg.
“The opportunity that we have to go out every day and get 6-7 consecutive at bats,” Cluff said, “and then to have a little bit more time to do more 1 on 1 just because of the minimal amount of people that are here, to do more 1 on 1 work with the hitting coordinator or infield coordinator, I definitely think there’s aspects of it that allow you to make adjustments quickly and to get a little bit more time to get 1 on 1 feedback.”
The young infielder also took the opportunity to talk with some of the veterans at the Alt. Site, picking veteran Brandon Snyder’s brain for details about life in the majors.
Cluff said the six-year big league vet impressed with, “... just the way that he carries himself around here. He’s always making it fun.
“I just had a 1 on 1 with him out on the field today for like 30 minutes, talking about his time in the big leagues,” with Snyder stressing the idea that being a good teammate goes a long way.
“A lot of your success builds off the kind of teammate you are and I think that the guys here have figured that out pretty well,” Cluff said.
“We have a good little group here. And just for me, I’ve only been here the last few weeks. They’ve been here for a month, a month and a half before.
“It’s not like you’re competing against each other as far as playing time, and so we all just kind of have fun out there and try to be good teammates, and build off each others’ success, because even though we’re in the development stage, at the end of the day we’re all Washington Nationals. So if you really want your team to win, then you want the guy on the mound, you want the guy in the box to do well.”
The next step for Cluff? He’ll be joining some of the other top prospects and new draft picks from the 2020 class in West Palm Beach, Florida, where an Instructional League of sorts will keep everyone working.
“I’m going to go to Instructional League, and that will be next week I’ll head down to Florida and work out there for the next month, or month and a half, however long it is, but just kind of again, it’s just more development,” Cluff said, “and a chance to get more at bats against quality pitching, and obviously play defense as well.”
Cluff on facing 2020 1st Round pick Cade Cavalli in Fredericksburg: “He struck me out today ... when you’re throwing the ball upper 90s, and you’re 99-98-97, he’s good. It’s kind of been cool for me just in the three weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve been able to see him make certain improvements on the mound. First of all he was just trying to blow it by people, he struggled with his command a little bit, but the last two weeks he’s been pretty polished as far as when he throws his offspeed, and getting ahead of hitters with that fastball, and when you get in that situation when you have someone like him who pounds the zone in the upper 90s, it makes it really difficult when you get to a position where you’re in defense, now you’re behind in the count, and when he can throw all those pitches for strikes like what he did today, that’s dangerous. That’s scary. I’m glad he’s with the Nats, he’s not with someone else.”
Cluff on who else impressed in Fredericksburg: “[2019 1st Round pick] Jackson Rutledge, obviously he’s very similar to Cade, they almost have identical, I guess, approach on the mound. They’re both upper 90s. And when they are throwing the offspeed for a strike and they can throw it in any count, it’s really difficult to hit. Other than that, [Paolo] Espino, he’s a guy that’s been around for a bit. He just knows how to pitch. He’s the opposite. He throws lower 90s, and even slower offspeed, but he’s been around the game and pitched long enough to where he knows how to use each pitch in different situations to make his fastball really play up.
“[Roenis] Elías has been pretty good too. He’s a big leaguer, has been up and down. He’s got stuff, his arm is pretty live.”
[ed. note - “If you’re wondering about that last mention Elías, who went on the 60-Day IL with a left elbow flexor strain in late July, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez said on Saturday that the lefty is throwing again. “He’s working back. He’s thrown a live BP, he’s thrown kind of a sim game, and then he threw another little extended sim game, but he still needs to get built up. We’re hoping that he can go back-to-back days, but we’ll see how he feels, but it’s been a slow process for him, but he actually is feeling better, so hopefully, whether we get him back this year or not, he leaves here feeling good about going into the winter.”]