FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — A section behind the few scouts watching Jarlin Susana on Wednesday night — and behind the fans whispering about the numbers 18 and 103 — sat three of the Washington Nationals’ high-ranking officials. For three innings, they watched Susana, 18, touch 103 mph with his fastball against the Delmarva Shorebirds. They saw him strike out Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft, with a backdoor slider that registered at 92. And by the top of the fifth, they were on their way back to Washington.
It’s not every night that Mark Lerner, the team’s managing principal owner, visits the low Class A affiliate Fredericksburg Nationals. On Wednesday, it was the first time this season, with Mike Rizzo, his general manager, and Mark Scialabba, an assistant GM for player development, bringing him to check out Susana, one of the prospects the Nationals acquired in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade Aug. 2.
Lerner, whose family is exploring a sale of the franchise, had long wanted to catch a game at Virginia Credit Union Stadium, the club’s closest minor league site. From April on, the stadium has housed the Nationals’ most successful team, including the last-place product at the major league level. But it was also no coincidence that Susana was on the mound when Lerner arrived.
Susana’s two outings in Fredericksburg have been mini events. A handful of front office members drove down for his debut. On Wednesday, when he allowed a run and struck out four in three frames, Lerner, Rizzo and Scialabba took in both his shaky command and obvious promise. The stadium radar gun runs hot for breaking balls in Fredericksburg, meaning the velocity for Susana’s slider and change-up was probably a tick lower than presented. But multiple people used the same word for his 103-mph heat.
“I won’t stand here and say that was my best performance,” Susana said after the game, speaking in Spanish through developmental coach Carmelo Jaime. “But I am continuing to learn at this level. This is all still very new to me.”
After signing with the Padres for $1.7 million in January, Susana threw 29⅓ innings for their rookie ball affiliate. A native of Villa Isabela in the Dominican Republic, Susana stands 6 foot 6 and first threw 100 between his 16th and 17th birthdays. The Nationals, who evaluated him as an amateur prospect in Latin America, sent trusted scouts to two of his starts leading into the trade deadline.
The ask for Soto was four top prospects: outfielders Robert Hassell III and James Wood, shortstop CJ Abrams and left-handed pitcher MacKenzie Gore. But when Josh Bell entered the picture, Washington wanted Susana for the first baseman. That’s how Susana wound up moving to Fredericksburg last month, living among teammates at the Best Western Plus.
So far, his catch partners have been pitching coach Joel Hanrahan, right-handed pitcher Mason Denaburg and catcher Geraldi Diaz, who was behind the plate Wednesday. Jackson Rutledge, another starter for Fredericksburg, has avoided that task. While warming to face the Shorebirds, the whole pitching staff watched and nodded along to Susana’s fastball smacking against Diaz’s mitt. He was tinkering with his mechanics, trying to speed up his delivery out of the stretch — a way to better control base runners — while not altering his arm path. Then he lost control of a low-90s change-up, flinging it to where a handful of teammates took in his pregame bullpen session.
They scattered in all directions, one diving to the turf and taking stock of the danger while lying flat on his stomach. Another dropped his banana in the scramble for cover.
“His pitches are just insane,” said Rutledge, a 23-year-old picked in the first round of the 2019 draft. “Everyone talks about the 103, and I get it. But a 96-mile-per-hour slider? Are you kidding? A hard slider like that is the best pitch in baseball, if you ask me. And he’s got it.”
Susana’s four-seam fastballs sit in the triple digits and can regularly hit 102 and 103. He has that hard slider in the mid-90s and a slower one ranging from 88 to 92. His change-up is generally in the low-90s, though all the fluctuating velocities can make it tough to track his pitches without advanced technology. After he faced the Shorebirds, yielding three walks and an RBI double — and walking Holliday in their second meeting — he even mentioned a sinker that doesn’t show up in most scouting reports.
Long term, some in the front office already believe Susana will be a late-inning reliever, feeling that would help avoid injuries and maximize his value. Following the trade, one Nationals official called Susana the “riskiest of risks,” a teenager with a prodigious fastball that could put immense strain on his arm. But for now, as Washington slowly builds his innings count, the whole organization can sit back and wonder.
A big question, of course, is how Susana might fit on a future staff for a contending team. But a lower-stakes discussion — and perhaps a more fun one — is whether there’s another mile per hour or two in his tank. The fastest recorded pitch in MLB history was Aroldis Chapman’s 105.1-mph fastball in 2010. Ben Joyce, a recent third-round pick by the Los Angeles Angels, threw 105.5 at the University of Tennessee this past spring. Susana, 18 until March, wants to join that company.
Rutledge, laughing: “Throw harder? I don’t know. I think if he can locate his fastball around the zone, that’s what you want. He doesn’t need more velocity. If he can command that pitch consistently, he’ll be unhittable.”
Fredericksburg manager Jake Lowery: “I mean … at his age, imagining that he’ll only get bigger, it’s not crazy. Like it’s crazy but probably not impossible.”
Then Susana, speaking in English because he had heard the challenge before: “Of course. One oh five. One oh five.”