WASHINGTON – Infielder Jackson Cluff, drafted by the Nationals in 2019, was in minor league spring training with the club the following year when he was summoned to a Spring Training game by Washington.
Cluff got to the clubhouse before some of the older players arrived, but Ryan Zimmerman was there.
“I went and put my stuff in the locker but he kindly told me to wait until the big leaguers put their stuff in a locker,” Cluff told Federal Baseball in a phone interview Thursday from Florida. “He was nice to me; he said it in a nice way.”
Cluff got one at-bat that day off the bench and a few days later Spring Training shut down in Florida and Arizona due to the pandemic.
There was no minor league season for Cluff in 2020 and Zimmerman decided to sit out the shortened Major League schedule due to COVID-19 concerns – his mother has had MS for many years.
Now that Zimmerman has retired, Cluff feels fortunate that he was able to watch him from afar for a few years.
“The best way to say it he was a veteran in everything he did,” Cluff said of the University of Virginia product. “He did things the right way, he treated people the right way.”
Cluff is not on the 40-man roster of the Nationals, but after a strong Arizona Fall League, he certainly has their attention.
He has been working out in the Orlando area the past few weeks with Florida State products Drew Mendoza and pitcher Andrew Karp, who are also in the Washington farm system. Mendoza, an infielder, was also drafted in 2019 and was teammate at Single-A Hagerstown that season with Cluff.
After several injuries during the 2021 season, Cluff has turned himself into an option for infield depth in Washington down the road.
“Staying healthy is my No. 1 goal, and stay on the field,” he said of 2022. “And No. 2 is to help the Nationals win at some point.”
Cluff will head to West Palm Beach at some point soon – no official date as of Thursday for minor leaguers – and feels he will start the season with a minor league club.
But after that, he hopes to get a call to the majors this year.
He was married in January to former BYU soccer standout midfielder Mikayla Colohan (now Cluff), who is in training with the Orlando Pride in the women’s pro league NWSL. Her team begins the season on Feb. 27 against Montreal.
Cluff is considered the top infield prospect in the Nationals’ system by Baseball America.
He played five games in the Gulf Coast League and for Single-A Fredericksburg last year and in 35 games for Double-A Harrisburg. All told, he hit .214 in 159 at-bats.
But in the Arizona Fall League, he was named the top defensive player while hitting .342 with eight steals in 22 games for Surprise manager Mario Lisson, who was the Fredericksburg skipper last year.
“It was a good feeling; it gave me confidence,” said Cluff, noting he has played in just 107 games in the minors since signing with Washington.