In Harrisburg, three Nationals prospects grow together

Batting practice was in full swing at Prince George’s Stadium, home of the Class AA Bowie Baysox, this past Thursday, when suddenly a series of loud thwacks cut through the background music. Harrisburg Senators outfielder James Wood sent a line drive into center field, then another.

Wood walked out of the cage and toward infielder Brady House. They exchanged a few words and shared a laugh. House twirled his bat, waiting his turn. A few moments later, he crushed a few line drives of his own.

Then came Robert Hassell III. He lined a ball off the wall in center field before sending the rest of the pitches he saw on a line into left field.

House, 20, was promoted to high Class A Wilmington in early June, then was called up to Class AA Harrisburg last week. He joined Hassell and Wood, forming a trio of promising players in the Washington Nationals system who will have the chance to learn and grow together with the Senators.

“It was crazy — I wasn’t expecting it at the time that I was told,” House said last week of his rapid promotion. “I was super happy that I had the opportunity to come up here and play. So I’m going to make the most of it and enjoy my time here.”

House and Wood, a 6-foot-6 outfielder who is Washington’s top prospect, represented the Nationals at the Futures Game in Seattle during all-star festivities. House called it “one of the best things I’ve ever done” and said he had never played in front of that many people. It was also the first time House and Wood had caught up since spring training. Wood said he knew it was only a matter of time before House would get called up. A few days later, Wood noticed that one of Harrisburg’s trainers added a new number to their group chat. Then House’s name popped up.

“Having to go through our lineup, I think our lineup’s pretty deep,” Wood said. “It’s definitely going to be tough throughout the game, throughout the season. Once we play together more, too, we’ll start clicking and it’s going to be really fun to see.”

Hassell, a 21-year-old outfielder, has the most experience of the three at this level. He landed with Washington as part of the Juan Soto trade, ended last season in Class AA, then rejoined the Senators this year after injuries delayed his start. Hassell is hitting .226 with a .628 OPS in 60 games with Harrisburg. Wood, 20, joined him in late May after mashing in Wilmington — he’s hitting .208 with a .733 OPS in 41 games with the Senators. All three have some adjustments to make before they get promoted.

“The age thing, too, is great because, speaking for me personally, seeing older [pitchers], it’s been great for me,” Hassell said. “It’s been a challenge and it’s been an everyday grind, and I really have benefited from it and learned a lot. I can’t speak for those guys, but I assume it’s the same for them. They’re going to enjoy being at this level and competing. Looking forward to the rest of the year.”

Wood and Hassell play center field and have split reps there with Harrisburg. Elijah Green and Dylan Crews — Washington’s two most recent first-round picks — also man center.

House’s promotion does have an impact on Trey Lipscomb, a 2022 third-round pick who played third base at the University of Tennessee. Lipscomb will still get some time there; House won’t play every day. But as House gets acclimated to third, Lipscomb has sometimes shifted to second.

All of that, however, will be determined at some point in the future.

Before they took batting practice, the team took part in defensive drills on the field. The crack of the bat sent Hassell to his left as a coach near the infield yelled “Third base!” He fielded a grounder and fired a one-hop toss to third that House snagged before applying a phantom tag.

Then came Wood’s throw. He glided toward the ball, fielded it and threw a two-hopper that got on House’s body quicker than he expected. His eyes widened. His cheeks swelled. And then he leaned back to snag the ball and apply another tag. House will get used to those throws over the coming weeks.

“I’m glad that I get to get up here and get experience and get some time in at third base in Double-A,” House said. “Everywhere you go, you have to take reps there to start feeling more comfortable. So it’s going to take time. And I’m sure it takes time for everybody. Just getting reps in, but I’m feeling good.”

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