Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Archive for April, 2023

April end of Month check-in on the Rotations


Jake Bennett might be the best looking starter prospect in the system right now. Photo from OSU

Nearly every year I get excited when we see who the rotations are at the various full-season levels, and then every year i … run out of time to check back in. I used to do “rotation review ” posts after every pass through the rotations, giving good/bad/holding serve notifications, but that was just way, way too much work for what’s an “in my spare time” endeavor.

But here we are, 2023, and we’ve seen a small burst of competence out of the big club, plus some points of interest elsewhere, so i thought i’d do a “state of the rotation” after a few turns through.

Important links for this analysis:

We’ll start with the Majors.

Rotation: Corbin, Grey, Gore, Williams, Kuhl

Changes since opening day: none, amazingly. We all knew Strasburg was going to start on the DL, and Cavalli’s injury was the dagger of spring, but through the first month the MLB rotation has not deviated. Pretty amazing for a last place team that is depending on two near-rookies and an NRI.

Observations: I don’t think anyone is surprised that Corbin’s ERA is nearly 6.00. He’s yet to have what i’d call a “good” outing despite two quality starts. He remains in the rotation thanks to his salary and a lack of better options. Kuhl’s 7.36 ERA (as of this writing) is not gonna get it done, especially for an NRI. He has to shape up and fast. Williams signed a 2 year deal so he’s not going anywhere fast, and he’s holding stead right at a league average 101 ERA+ through 5 starts. Grey’s fip slightly flatters his era, but still through 5 starts he’s got solid numbers and looks to improve on last year. For me the big win so far is the performance of Gore, who completely shut down the Mets this week and seems to improve start to start. So far in 2023, he’s looking like the real deal and is looking entirely like the trade bounty he was meant to be last year.

Next guy to get cut: Kuhl. NRI, no investment, and a 7 ERA spells doom. Is there a AAA replacement? No there isn’t (read next section), so one or two more crap starts and, if it were me, i’d be putting Ward into the rotation.

AAA Rochester:

Rotation: Adon, Irvin, Espino, Abbott, Peralta

Changes since Opening Day: Espino hit the DL right after his first start, which then gave starts to Kilome and T.Romero, both of whom were awful. Kilome posted a 19+ ERA in 2 starts and was released, while Romero posted a 9+ ERA in 2 starts/4 games and is on the DL.

Of course, Rochester is missing two names in particular that we all WANTED to see there, in Henry and Tetreault, but they’re hurt, so instead we get the two 2022 LRs from the big club Abbott and Espino taking AAA starts.

Observations; I think we all know what we have in Espino and Abbott at this point: 7th/8th bullpen arms who can soak up in long relief, even be decent as relievers, but who cannot be effective starters. Really, the same with Peralta, who has 10yrs of MLB experience at this point. I’m less interested in these guys as I am in the two prospects. Adon was awful with a capital-A last year, so 2023 is an important bounce back season, and so far, he’s doing ok; a mid 4-s Era, a bit too many base runners, but otherwise an improvement. Our other important arm here is Irvin; he’s got similar numbers to Irvin but his ERA is a point higher due to some unluckiness. Unfortunately, neither guy is doing a sub 2.00 dominance in AAA like we’d like to see. So, we’ll move on.

Next guy to get promoted: nobody: not one of the AAA starters is making any case right now to push for a promotion and take the place of Kuhl.

Next guy to get demoted or released: Abbott and Romero. Abbott is on the 40man and might be the first guy off if the team needs a slot, based on his current AAA ERA. Romero’s putting more than 2runners on per inning and it seems like he’s short for the team if they need a spot.

AA Harrisburg:

Rotation: Rutledge, Parker, Herrera (might be LR), Troop, Cuevas

Changes since Opening Day: None. AA has several guys who used to be starters (Cate, Gausch, Evan Lee, Carrillo) who I thought might be in the rotation, but clearly have all now been made relievers. Cate is the most amazing fall; he was the opening day starter in AA two years ago, now he’s a loogy. I’m slightly surprised Lee isn’t being looked at as a starter, given his big arm, and especially since one of the 5 guys in this rotation is clearly an org guy/innings eater in Herrera, but that’s just me.

Observations: Troop and Herrera are 26 and 27 respectively, both have AAA time (Herrera was in AAA in 2016!), and the presence of both in AA is probably an indictment of our pitching development lately. Clearly instead of these two you’d like to see Cate and Carrera in the rotation … but they just couldn’t cut it. So, lets focus on the prospects. The big name here is Rutledge, who struggled in Low-A, got on the 40-man and now sits in AA. So far, not bad for Rutledge, who’s had some bad luck and a lot of IR-S (Inherited Runners – Scored) from his relievers to inflate his ERA. I’m a huge Rutledge critic, but i like what i’ve seen so far. Parker may have finally matriculated to a level he can’t handle and has an ERA north of 7. He also can’t find the plate and has 16 walks in 14 IPs; hard to win when you’re giving up a baserunner an inning before anybody gets a hit. Cuevas’ breakout 2022 has come to a screeching halt in AA as well, with the highest BAA of any starter.

Next guy to get promoted: nobody: If they absolutely had to pull someone up from AA i’d probably go with Troop, who has a .216 BAA despite his ERA/FIP/WHIP peripherals.

Next guy to get demoted or released: Cuevas is only 21 and is struggling; i could see him going back to High-A soon if there was someone to take his spot.

High-A Wilmington

Rotation: Lara, Saenz, Huff, Theophile, Alvarez

Changes since Opening Day: Luckham has taken two starts, seemingly in place of Theophile, and it remains to be seen how it shakes out. Former SPs Knowles and Hernandez have been bumped to the bullpen

Observations: Luckham has been the high performer so far, a 2022 15th rounder who was used in middle relief last year. It is early, but his stuff looks great so far and he’s seemingly bumped a more valued prospect out of the rotation for now. Huff in the rotation was a surprise to this observer; he was never used as a starter last year, but that may just be due to it being his draft year as well. He’s getting hit around plenty though so far unfortunately, with a BAA in the .325 range. Andry Lara is the highest profile prospect here, by far, and he continues to underwhelm. The guy has a live arm with easy mid 90s speed, but doesn’t get the punch outs you’d expect. He’s got a solid BAA and has good control (4 walks in 18ip), but not enough swing and miss. I’m sure the Nats brass is just as frustrated. Saenz keeps on treading water, not impressing but not jeopardizing his rotation spot. Theophile only has 2 starts and 9IP as of this writing, too early to pass any judgement.

Next guy to get promoted: Probably Luckham, but i’d want to see him for half a season first.

Next guy to get demoted or released: Huff seems likely to get dumped back to the bullpen soon, if the team wants to replace him in the rotation and go with the 5 from 6 as discussed earlier.

Low-A Fredericksburg

Rotation: Bennett, Susana, Atencio, Cornelio, Denaburg

Changes since Opening Day: Atencio is probably more of a LR, and the team has given two other starts to clearly relievers when weather issues or last minute changes occur (we saw one of those this week with Susana getting yanked last minute). Aldonis seems like he’s in the mix too, perhaps at the expense of Denaburg. Read on.

Observations: Several big-time important prospects to the team here. Susana’s line so far: big arm, lots of Ks, can’t find the plate (10 walks in 9 innings), and got skipped in the rotation for an unknown reason recently. Not good. Bennett, our 2nd rounder in 2022, has been very solid, presenting like the classy veteran college pitcher we like. 21/5 K/BB in 15 innings, 1.11 whip, sub 3.00 ERA. So far so good for Bennett. We havn’t really seen a lot of Aldonis, but he was solid last year in Low-A and has been solid in his first two low-A starts this year. A good beginning, and something I hope he builds on. 2022 7th rounder Cornelio has gotten whacked around, but he’s not going anywhere. Lastly we come to Denaburg, who has looked awful in 2 starts and might be at the end of his string. He’s 23, already has passed through rule-5, and I’m not sure if he can get anybody out anymore.

Next guy to get promoted: Bennett

Next guy to get demoted or released: Denaburg. At some point you have to cut bait on a 1st rounder and admit defeat. I know the Nats have a hard time with this, especially when they see his big, glaring signing bonus. But he just has never come back from his arm injuries.

Written by Todd Boss

April 28th, 2023 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Nats in General

Spring Training 2023 NRI Disposition


Before I clear out the “NRI color coding” on the Big Board, I thought i’d write out a bit about the 2023 spring training competitions and the fact that yet again a slew of Non Roster Invites (NRIs) have made the team.

Here’s past posts on the same topic by year: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.

So, who were the NRIs this year? By position:

  • Starters: Kuhl. Tetreault, Lee, Romero
  • Righty Relievers: Harris, , Brzycky, Castro, Colome, Machado, Peralta, Carrillo
  • Lefty Relievers: Banda*, Baldanado, Perez, Doolittle
  • Catchers: Millas, Lindslay
  • Infielders: Chavis, Mejia, Adams, Blankenhorn, Fox, Valera
  • Outfielders: Casey, Hill, Antuna, Hernandez

So, Opening day NRIs to make roster and the circumstances behind each

  • Chad Kuhl makes the roster as the 5th starter when a massive gap in the rotation opens up with Cavalli’s arm injury. I thought perhaps rule5 pick Thad Ward had a shot here, but the team seemed to decide early he was going to hang in the bullpen for now. There were a slew of 40-man member starters in camp (Adon, Irvin, Abbott, Espino), but none of them made a legitimate case above Kuhl. Abbott and Espino seem to have proved last year they were better in relief, and both were sent down to AAA relatively early.
  • Hobie Harris: the team knew they were going to be down one RH reliever in Rainey, but didn’t count on Arano’s injury, which opened up a spot. Weems is the only other RH reliever on the 40-man and seems like he’ll be the first guy cut if they need space, which left the door open for Harris, who had a fantastic spring.
  • Anthony Banda slid into the sole lefty spot in the bullpen thanks mostly to Doolittle getting hurt. There are a couple other lefty relievers on the 40-man, but they’re both too young. This was always going to a NRI, and Banda won.
  • Michael Chavis might be the biggest surprise NRI to get added, in that the team had an identical player in Jake Alu who was just added, plus a former 1st rounder in Downs who they were taking a shot at. In the end, when Kieboom got hurt (yet again) it sealed the fate of others, who failed to impress during spring.

Which of the rest of the NRIs might we see this year? I fully expect another season of RH reliever churn, so look for guys like Colome and Machado to get re-added if they stay with the team and start out well. A couple of the NRIs are legit prospects (Brzycky) who seem like they’ll be up at some point. Perhaps later in the year we’ll see a return to the 40-man for guys like Casey and Hernandez.

Written by Todd Boss

April 1st, 2023 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Nats in General