The Nationals already like what they see from former UCLA closer Holden Powell, their third-round pick in 2020. Now they’re looking forward to watching the righthander in his first truly competitive professional situation.
“He’s got a lot of gumption,” Nationals minor league pitching coordinator Brad Holman said. “He pitches with confidence. He also has a little funk, which probably plays into his favor.”
The 6-foot, 189-pound Powell might not have the most intimidating appearance for a closer, but he had a 2.26 ERA and 26 saves in three seasons for the Bruins. In 2020, he struck out 20 and walked two over 9.1 scoreless innings with three saves. UCLA was 13-2 when the coronavirus pandemic cut the campaign short.
“It was definitely hard knowing how good we were and having it suddenly end,” Powell said. “But that’s out of our control. It sucked, but I think it worked out with the draft.”
Powell pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts against Southern California last March 8. Then he went all the way until late September before getting a chance to throw in front of Nationals staff at instructional league in West Palm Beach, Fla.
He lived up to his billing with a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, and his curveball is also improving.
“I’ve really only had a month to perform in front of them,” Powell said. “But that experience was pretty good—just learning the ins and outs of being a professional.”
Powell then worked out with several former college teammates near the UCLA campus before returning home to start the new year. He began his throwing program in late January with a side session with friend Tyler Kennedy, his catcher from Mount Whitney High in Visalia, Calif.
Whenever spring training begins for the 21-year-old Powell, Holman knows he’ll be prepared.
“We’ve had some clear, concise conversations,” Holman said. “He’s faced a lot of big-time competition. He has a short arm slot that’s a little different from your model delivery. It’s a little abrupt, violent and explosive. I just want to see him compete.”
—The Nationals agreed to terms with 10 international signees, most notably shortstop Armando Cruz from the Dominican Republic. Cruz, now 17, signed for $3.9 million and stood out for his premium defensive ability.
—Catcher Blake Swihart, a 28-year-old switch-hitter, signed a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training. Swihart was the Red Sox No. 1 prospect in 2015 and has major league experience with Boston and the Diamondbacks.