WASHINGTON - The past year has been a challenge for many minor league players trying to find a good place to train.
The minor league season was called off in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Jackson Cluff was able to take part in the alternate site in Fredericksburg, VA and in Instructional League in Florida last fall.
This winter, the infielder has trained with other former players from his alma mater, BYU in Utah.
One of them is pitcher Seth Corry, a third-round pick of the Giants in 2017 out of Lone Peak High in Utah.
Cluff also works outside on a field near his home with his father, Paul, who was drafted in 1989 in the fourth-round out of BYU.
“My family lives in southern Utah so I work out with my dad on a field there,” the Nationals’ prospect told Federal Baseball this past weekend.
His father played in the minors for Boise in 1989 and the younger Cluff played high school ball in Idaho. His parents moved to Utah a few years ago.
“He helps out with some high school and coaches travel ball,” Cluff, 24, said of his father. “He helps coach my brother, who is a freshman at Desert Hills High School in St. George, Utah.”
“The Nats trust us a lot to do a lot of our training on our own,” Jackson Cluff added. “When it comes to strength and conditioning, we had a program in the fall.
“It was my goal to put on a little extra weight and speed development. They check in on me a couple of times per month.”
Cluff is eager for the 2021 season to begin.
“The biggest thing is playing baseball. This would be my first full season since last year didn’t count,” Cluff said. “My goal is to nail down a routine and how I am going to get ready, and continue to get better and play at the level I want.”
Mark Scialabba, assistant general manager, player development, told Federal Baseball on Saturday that Cluff is mature beyond his years.
“He did a great job really of taking advantage of the resources that he had. Back home, I know he worked extremely hard,” Scialabba said from his home in Washington on an icy day in the nation’s capital. “I know he is getting live at-bats at home. He is someone that is very mature and very independent. I don’t really worry about him. He has the ability to understand what he needs to do from a work standpoint.”
“He has a very good aptitude and takes to coaching very well. He is just very hungry to improve in all phases. We saw that last year when he got to the alternate site. He hit the ground running. By the end of the game, he learned how to use the whole field offensively,” added Scialabba, a former Division III baseball standout at Williams. “Defensively he continues to be a sponge and use the tools that he has.”
Cluff played mostly shortstop in college but has taken grounders at second and third in pro ball.
“You never know where he will be in the big leagues,” Scialabba said. “We believe in him as a shortstop. He has the feet and the hands and the arm strength to play there. He ranges extremely well to both sides and comes in on balls well. He has the internal clock you want to see in a shortstop. We are very high on him defensively.”
Cluff, one of the top infield prospects with the Nationals, was drafted by the club in 2019 out of Brigham Young, and spent that season at low Single-A Hagerstown of the South Atlantic League. He hit .229 in 62 games that year with the Suns, with five homers and 19 RBIs.
The Nationals learned that their low Single-A team will be in Fredericksburg this year, with high Single-A at Wilmington. Double-A will return to Harrisburg and Triple-A will be new in Rochester - formerly the top affiliate of the Twins.
Players in the low minors with the Orioles said Friday they expect to report to Spring Training around early April - or a month later than normal.
“We have not heard on the minor-league side when we will be reporting,” Cluff said Saturday. Scialabba noted an official report date has not been set for players in the low minors.
At times, Cluff will also hear from Troy Gingrich, the hitting coordinator in player development. “It is a mixture of all of them checking in to see how we are doing,” Cluff said.