Making it to the major leagues, the highest level of professional baseball, is a significant accomplishment. Fewer than 20,000 humans have ever appeared in MLB, a small fraction of a percent of those who have suited in any professional capacity. Getting to The Show, even for a brief period of time, carries some weight in professional clubhouses.
David Washington, the newest member of the Milwaukee Milkmen, has been there.
The 29 year old got his cup of coffee with the Orioles during the 2017 season, making six trips to the plate during three-plus weeks of service time spanning a couple of stints. He earned that shot by establishing himself as one of the top power bats in the upper levels of pro ball, and has done nothing but reinforce that status in the years since.
Washington, a 15th round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals as a prep player back in 2009, was never recognized as a top prospect by Baseball America during his rise to the big leagues, but that didn’t stop him from thriving against every level of competition that he faced. He took a year to start growing into his power, but over the last decade, he hasn’t slugged below .426 in any full season.
David made it to full-season ball on a full-time basis in 2014, and he clubbed 15 home runs in 89 games with a 109 wRC+ in Class A-Advanced. The jump that he made the following season, from High-A to Double-A, is considered to be one of the most difficult developmental steps is pro baseball. But Washington crushed it, along with 16 dingers in 97 games to pair with a 123 wRC+.
David’s best season came in 2016. He began back in Double-A Springfield, but after hitting .276/.402/.553 during the first month, he punched his ticket to Triple-A. By the end of the year, Washington had appeared in 127 games and accrued 493 plate appearances between the two stops, finishing with a .259/.359/.532 slash line. He also launched a career-high 30 home runs, including 25 of them in 105 games at the highest level of the minors. Those flashy numbers earned him the honor of being named as an Organizational All-Star by MiLB.com during his final year in the Cardinals’ system. Washington reached minor league free agency after the conclusion of the 2016 campaign, and he quickly inked a new minors deal with the Orioles.
Washington experienced more of the same success in Triple-A with Baltimore in 2017, bashing 18 home runs with a 118 wRC+ in 103 games for the Norfolk Tides around his stints in the big leagues. After the season, Washington was outrighted off Baltimore’s 40-man roster and became a free agent. That is when he began his career in independent baseball, landing with the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League prior to the start of 2018.
Washington immediately became one of the most feared power bats on a circuit filled with former big league players. He finished his first season in Long Island with a 110 OPS+ while smashing 24 home runs in 457 plate appearances, the second-highest homer total in the league, and was voted into the midseason All-Star game. He helped Long Island make it to all the way to the Atlantic League Championship series before the squad was defeated by the Sugar Land Skeeters, three games to two.
Washington returned to Long Island for the 2019 season and improved upon his already terrific performance. He raised his OPS+ up to 122 in 401 plate appearances and launched another 23 four-baggers, tying for the third-highest total in the league. Once again, he was named to the All-Star team as Long Island cruised to the best record on the circuit. The Ducks met up with the Skeeters in the championship series for the second year in a row, but this time, Washington and his teammates emerged victorious, three games to two.
Now, David Washington will bring that championship experience along with his upper-level track record and big league pedigree to the south side of Milwaukee County. A mammoth at the plate, the left-handed hitting Washington stands 6’5” and weighs in at 260 lbs. He stands with an open stance at the plate and a slight bat waggle as he awaits the pitch coming in, but the combination of his lightning-quick bat and sheer brute strength give him plus in-game power.
There is a fair amount of swing-and-miss in Washington’s game; he has punched out in 33% of his plate appearances across all levels of professional baseball and led the Atlantic League in whiffs in 2019. But he helps to mitigate that by drawing a high number of walks — a 10.6% BB rate for his career — leading to typically solid on-base percentages even when his batting average is generally low. That profile has worked for him at some of the highest organized levels of the game — he was a .274/.350/.486 hitter at the Double-A level, a .259/.332/.502 hitter in Triple-A, and slashed a combined .231/.323/.468 during his two seasons in the Atlantic League.
Washington is athletic for someone of his stature, too. He’s more than just a slow-footed masher, swiping 18 and 19 bags during the last two seasons with Long Island. He is regarded as a strong defender at first base and is quite capable in the corner outfield spots. He’ll typically be lining up on the synthetic grass in right field for the Milkmen, but that positional versatility is sure to come in handy given the 23-man active roster that first-year manager Anthony Barone has to work with.
The addition of David Washington gives the Franklin Nine a proven presence at the cleanup spot and ties the bow on their offensive makeover this offseason. He’ll be surrounded by other big additions like Miguel Gomez, Mason Davis, Aaron Hill, and Brett Vertigan, as well as returning stalwarts Manny Boscan and Adam Walker. One thing is certain — the Milwaukee Milkmen project to push runs across the plate at a far higher clip than they did during their inaugural campaign, and they are shaping up to be legitimate contenders for the American Association playoffs in 2020.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs