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Washington Nationals’ prospect Drew Mendoza battles back from COVID-19

The infielder played at Hagerstown last year and is now in the player pool with fellow prospect Jackson Cluff ….

2019 Florida State Baseball Season Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

WASHINGTON - A year after ending the season at low Single-A Hagerstown, infielders Drew Mendoza and Jackson Cluff have advanced to the 60-player pool at the alternate site in Fredericksburg with the Nationals.

“Jackson and Drew, they bring a unique skill set,” said Tommy Shields, the co-field director in player development. That is even more impressive for Mendoza as he comes back from dealing with COVID-19, according to Shields.

“My experience with COVID was minimal,” Mendoza told Federal Baseball on Sunday. “I did have a fever for a day or two (during shutdown while at home in Florida). After a few days, I was fine.”

Now he is getting to face more advanced pitchers at the alternate site. He got to hit off Sterling Sharp, who made his Major League debut with the Marlins last month, and also batted against top prospects such as Tim Cate and Jackson Rutledge.

“I am really grateful for this opportunity,” Mendoza said. “It has been humbling.”

“Big kid, athletic, good arm, good feet in the field,” Shields told Federal Baseball about Mendoza. “First baseman, third baseman. And he’s got power. He actually had COVID and he was down for two or three weeks. So it is an opportunity for him to get at-bats as well, which is what you need. Both of those guys need at-bats.”

Mendoza, who turns 23 in October, was drafted in the third round last year out of Florida State.

The third baseman played in 55 games at Hagerstown and hit .264 with four homers, 25 RBI, and an OPS of .760.

“For a big guy – he is probably 6-foot-4 or better – he is very athletic and we are excited about [him],” Shields said of Mendoza.

Mendoza is from Tallahassee and worked out in the past with infielder guru Jeff Garber, the co-field director along with Shields and a resident of the Tallahassee area.

“I feel comfortable at both first and third,” Mendoza said.

Cluff, 23, was picked in the sixth round in June 2019 out of BYU and then played in 62 games at Hagerstown, batting .229 with five homers and 19 RBI with an OPS of .687.

The father of Cluff, Paul, also played at college at BYU and the elder Cluff played in the minor leagues after being drafted in the fourth round in 1999.

“Jackson is very athletic and plays shortstop and is a left-handed hitter,” said Shields, a Fairfax native who played at Notre Dame and in the majors as an infielder for the Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs. “We really like how athletic he is, how much of a gamer he is.”

“He loves to play. During the stretch where we were away from the game (starting in March), he was working diligently at BYU,” Shields added. “He is an incredibly hard-worker, he can run and he has a great arm. We really love Jackson Cluff. This camp has been a great opportunity for him to face better pitching and get a lot of at-bats. We don’t have a lot of position players so we can’t play defense. It is just hitter, pitcher, catcher.”

“It gives him an opportunity to hit every inning. He may get six at-bats or more. Jackson has always been able to pull the ball. We are trying to get to the point with him not getting on the front side and move the ball around to the opposite field and up the middle.”

Mendoza and Cluff were assigned to the alternate site about two weeks ago and led to speculation by some fans they could be traded for a veteran at the deadline.

A player had to be in the 60-player pool in order to be traded this year. “I don’t let things like that cross my mind,” Mendoza said of possible trades.

Another young player at the alternate site is Jeremy De La Rosa, an outfielder who turned 18 in January. He is from the Dominican Republic and hit .232 in 82 at-bats with two homers and 10 RBI last year in the Gulf Coast League.

“We have had him in our system for quite some time,” Shields said. “I think he signed when he was 16. We had him at Instructional League two years ago. His build is similar to Soto, from a physical standpoint. His stance is actually similar to Soto – now there is just one Juan Soto.”

“We really think Jeremy has a chance to hit” at higher levels, Shields noted. “He uses the opposite field very well. He really goes the other way quite well. He is learning how the pull the ball. He is left-handed, obviously. Very mature kid, very nice young man. He graduated from Rosetta Stone. Very smart. Plays the corner outfield positions. As the youngest kid in camp, he holds his own here very well.”