BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Washington Nationals always seemed to believe in Jake Bennett’s potential. They scouted him and valued his talent and potential dating back to when the left-handed pitcher was at Bixby (Okla.) High School.
The Nationals selected him in the 39th round of the 2019 MLB draft. A second chance at taking Bennett came in 2022 when they picked him in the second round after he pitched for three years at the University of Oklahoma.
“It’s a pretty awesome feeling to be a part of this group,” Bennett said. “The Nationals organization is like a family, and for them to have that much faith in me, picking me twice (in the draft) is really special.”
Bennett made his professional debut this season. He rewarded the franchise’s conviction in him by posting a 1.93 ERA in nine starts at Class A Fredericksburg before making his way to advanced Class A Wilmington in June. The 6-foot-6 lefty held opposing hitters to a .222 average, keeping them off stride with an array of sliders and changeups late in the count, and struck out 11.6 batters per nine innings.
“I try to take the game one pitch at a time, and as far as stuff-wise, I have been sharpening up my slider and curveball. I have also been learning a lot about the hitters themselves and reading their swings. The mental approach to the game.”
Having impeccable control is a huge advantage for a pitcher early in their pro career, especially when facing inexperienced batters unfamiliar with their approach on the mound.
Bennett uses his strike-throwing tendencies to his advantage, walking 13 batters in 56 innings at both levels of the Nationals’ minor league system. His ability to work around the plate also helps him compensate for average fastball velocity and makes it more effective when mixing in his off-speed pitches.
“I have had pretty decent control my whole life,” Bennett said. “The main thing is not being scared to throw the ball in the strike zone and to attack opposing hitters. For lefties, I go more with the two-seam fastball and the slider and for righties, I go with the fastball up in the zone and the changeup.”
Bennett’s four-pitch mix consists of a low-90s fastball, slider with sharp downward movement, changeup and curveball. The fastball is a pitch he mostly uses early with the count, with the changeup and slider serving as pitches to finish off hitters when he gets to two strikes.
Bennett generates soft contact working on the inside half of the plate and can also use his offspeed pitches to set up his fastball in the zone occasionally. His delivery and size are reminiscent of Jordan Montgomery.
“Mixing speeds and eye levels really helps all of your pitches play up (with effectiveness),” he said. “I think working on the inner half of the plate really opens up your secondary stuff away. Hitters will try to protect against the inside pitches and once you drop in the secondary pitches low and away, they have a tough time adjusting.”
Cade Cavalli, a Nationals first-round pick who made the big leagues last September, went to high school with Bennett. They also were teammates at Oklahoma during Bennett’s freshman season.
Bennett looked up to Cavalli as he made his journey from Oklahoma to pro baseball. He still benefits from watching Cavalli as he embarks on a similar career path.
“Cavalli works insanely hard and has a ton of confidence,” Bennett said. “Just being around someone like that gives you a good road to follow. He leads by example, but he is definitely someone I can reach out to. I’m just trying to follow his career path and eventually follow him to D.C.”
Putting in the work between starts and making continued improvements and adjustments are key factors in Bennett emerging as the top left-handed pitching prospect in the Nationals’ farm system and rapid rise during his first season as a professional ballplayer.
Bennett is a top-10 prospect in the Nationals’ system. The franchise believes he has the physical tools and makeup to develop into the pitcher they envision.
“I am always working on getting bigger and stronger and gaining more confidence on the mound, especially with my breaking stuff,” Bennett explains. “I try to keep a simple approach for as long as I can when I am pitching. Building up strength will help my stuff play up and improve over time.”