Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Full Season Pitching Staffs


A.J. Cole leads the minor league starter depth.  Photo AP

A.J. Cole leads the minor league starter depth. Photo AP

All our full-season squads have been announced, and its time to start looking at the pitching staffs.

I never got to doing my massive reviews of the rotations of the various farm system teams this past off-season (job change, less free time at home, they being a ton of work, etc).  Which also led to my not doing any predictions on where our pitchers would start the 2015 season.  Which is a bummer, because it is always fun to see if my predictions were decent and to see how player movement has affected the squads.  Lets go team by team and (focusing on the rotations) look at how things have changed since the end of last season.

MLB (25-man roster announcement here)

  • 2015 Rotation: Scherzer, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Roark, Jordan
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Strasburg, Gonzalez, Zimmermann, Fister, Roark

Discussion: We’ve certainly talked this through.  Quickly;  Fister‘s 2014 spring training injury opened the door for both Roark and Jordan to duke it out for the 2014 5th starter job, eventually won by Roark, who gave the team a 5-win season as the 5th starter.  That wasn’t enough for the Nats though; committing $210M on Scherzer for the next decade or so, pushing Roark to mop-up guy/insurance starter for opening of 2015.

Manager Matt Williams also shook up the 2015 rotation order, installing the starters by accomplishment, not by reputation.  Thus 3-year running opening day starter Strasburg is dropped to the #3 hole, and last year’s #2 Gonzalez is now basically the #5 starter.

Enough about the MLB discussion though; lets get to the minor league rotations.


All four full season minor league squads are announced here by Nats Journal.   In some cases we know who the rotation will be, in other cases the below is a huge guess.  Especially at Hagerstown (as we’ll see).

AAA (Syracuse roster announcement link)

  • 2015 Rotation: Cole, Jordan, Hill, McGregor, Billings (with Lively, Rivero (L) as swingmen)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Rosenbaum (L), Hill, Tatusko, Treinen, Poveda
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Laffey (L), Hill,  Treinen, Lively, Cole (Espino 9/1 call-up)


A late spring training injury to Casey Janssen has called presumed AAA starter Blake Treinen into action in the Nats bullpen, perhaps for the long run.  Which has opened up a couple of spots in the Syracuse rotation … and they’ve been surprisingly filled.  Instead of installing who I presumed to be the 5th AAA starter (trade acquisition Felipe Rivero), the team has announced that 2014 MLFA signing/rubber-armed swingman Scott McGregor and 2015 MLFA Bruce Billings will fill out the rotation.

Changes from 2014?  Rosenbaum traded for catcher depth, Tatusko to Korea, Poveda remains an unsigned MLFA, and Laffey signed a new MLFA deal with Colorado.

One has to think that McGregor/Billings are temporary holds in the rotation until Treinen returns.  The conversion of Rivero to the bullpen is more interesting; the team is rather short on lefty starters in the system right now (thanks to a slew of upper-end draft pick lefty starters failing in the past few years … ahem Solis, Purke, Mooneyham, Turnbull).  As we’ll see later on, there’s nobody really that makes sense to supplant any of these guys as a starter from AA or XST.

AA (Harrisburg roster announcement here)

  • 2015 Rotation: Voth, Ross, Espino, Alderson, Swynenberg (with Bleier (L) perhaps as a swingman?)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Schwartz, Rivero (L), Gilliam, Purke (L), Cole
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Dupra (sort of), Voth, Rivero (L), Poveda, (Espino 9/1 promotion), Kroenke


Harrisburg went through an awful lot of starters last year.  19 guys got starts, 15 of which were not just one-offs.  From last year’s opening day, Schwartz got demoted after putting up a 7+ ERA and then hurt, Gilliam got hurt, and Purke had Tommy John surgery.  By the end of the season, only Rivero remained in the rotation, though he spent a good spell on the D/L as well.  Dupra got 12 starts and 24 appearances and was medicore (5.60 ERA), Poveda had great ratios (39Ks in 32innings) but an ugly era (5.34), and MLFA Kroenke was abhorrent (6.72 ERA).

Returning for 2015 are Austin Voth, the 2013 draft pick who shot up two levels last year, and last year’s MLFA Paolo Espino, who has re-upped with the team for 2015.  They are joined by newly acquired Joe Ross, MLFA Tim Alderson and the surprising Matt Swynenberg (who was closer to retirement than a rotation gig this time last year).   I have 2015 MLFA Richard Bleier as a swingman/spot starter for now.  This rotation may be augmented by some of the Missing/XST arms (see later discussion).


  • 2015 Rotation: Bacus, Pivetta, Spann (L), Suero, Rauh (with Schwartz as swingman?)
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Rauh, Rpena, Mooneyham (L), Encarnacion, Lee (L)
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Bacus, Spann (L), Dickson, Sylvestre,  Rauh,


Lots of turnover in the Potomac rotation as well; 14 guys got starts from last year.   Dakota Bacus, Brian Rauh, and Matthew Spann are reprising their roles as starters from the end of last season, while two others (Dickson and Sylvestre) remain in XST limbo for now.  What happened to the rest of these guys?  Brett Mooneyham and Nick Lee posted ERAs of 7.36 and 10.05 respectively and were both demoted.  Encarnacion was nearly as bad and was outright released by the organization earlier this past off-season.

Luckily, we kind of already know that the opening day rotation is going to change: we know where two of the organization’s brightest arms are heading.  Giolito and Lopez should supplant Bacus and Rauh, making for a rather formidable Potomac rotation.


  • 2015 Rotation: AWilliams, LReyes, Van Orden … and then who knows.  Orlan?  Ullman?
  • 2014 Opening Day Rotation: Pivetta Voth, Giolito, Silvestre (L)/Anderson, Johansen,
  • 2014 Closing Day rotation: Pivetta, RLopez, Ott, Dickey, Suero,


Well; Hagerstown’s rotation should be … interesting.  When you look at the assigned arms, there’s only three clear-cut starters from last year.  So clearly either the Hagerstown team will be getting reinforcements from the XST list or there’s guys being converted from 2014 relievers to 2015 starters.

Pivetta and Giolito were the mainstays from last year; both will be in high-A at some point soon.  Ott was flipped as a throw-in with the Steven Souza deal.   Its hard to pass judgement on this rotation until we talk about those in XST.


There’s a TON of arms who are currently unassigned.

Starters: JRodriguez, Dickey, Dickson, Estevez, Lopez, Giolito, Simms, Silvestre, Bourque, Amartinez, Gilliam
Relievers: Purke, Bates, Holland, Lehman, Mooneyham, Pena, Simmons, Solis, Turnbull, Feliz, McDowell, Torres, DWilliams

Where might these guys end up?   Well, based on their performance from last year, here’s some guesses for the starters:

  • AAA: nobody who isn’t already there
  • AA: Simms, Silvestre, Gilliam
  • High-A: Dickey, Dickson, Lopez, Giolito, Dupra (already on the Potomac D/L)
  • Low-A: JRodriguez, Estevez, Bourque, AMartinez

And the relievers?

  • AAA: Purke (already on the AAA D/L), Holland, Lehman (release candidate), Simmons (release candidate)
  • AA: Bates (release candidate), Pena, Solis
  • High-A: Mooneyham, Turnbull
  • Low-A: Feliz, McDowell, Torres, DWilliams

We’ll see how things go; I guess we could start seeing some minor league releases soon enough.



17 Responses to 'Nats Full Season Pitching Staffs'

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  1. Is it clear that Solis is a reliever now?


    8 Apr 15 at 12:55 pm

  2. I’m holding out hope that Solis stays a starter. 🙂

    Todd Boss

    8 Apr 15 at 1:08 pm

  3. Also of note here. Remember the brew-ha-ha over Giolito’s interview with (I believe) where he claimed there was “no restrictions” on his innings for the year? Yeah; that doesn’t seem to be the case now, does it? Both him and Lopez are in XST right now and I’ll bet they’re an innings-limiting plan.

    Todd Boss

    8 Apr 15 at 1:59 pm

  4. So now the curtain comes up on lots of decisions that have been made, and early fallout….

    1) First of all, I never expected Yunel Escobar to be in the opening day ineup. So, here we are. But then, I never expected Dan Uggla to be the starting second baseman. Injuries are postponing some tam decisions. Let’s see how potent the offense becomes when Werth and Rendon get back and the team has some weeks to fully gel.

    2) Taylor in the opening day starting lineup is exciting and also improbable. Who knows what to expect, but he sure does whet the appetite.

    3) I’m also surprised the team has held onto BOTH Zimmerman and Fister. The calculus must be that a World Series or Bust in 2015 and a draft pick outweighs a better (but not much better) trade return based on what has been proposed.

    4) Xavier Cedeno is a surprise, Treinen a surprise but one that many were quietly rooting for – enough that the Janssen signing seemed to obstruct in the first place.

    5) The bench shuffling in the late days of spring is a prelude of things to come when Werth and Rendon return. But good for Rizzo for getting DenDekker in with options remaining. Another character guy and a trade that gives option flexibility, like the Butler swap.

    6) Lots of folks have brief windows to perform and perform well — Moore, Johnson, Robinson, Uggla, Barrett, Treinen, perhaps even Stammen.

    7) These opportunities at the ML level are backed up by ready parts in AAA. Ok, Cedeno made it, but Matt Grace is on his heels. OK, Clint Robinson made it, but Kila can go down and mash. Rafael Martin has nothing more to prove. DenDekker may come through, but Gwynn is close. So one has to like the depth.

    8) Excellent plucks from the clearance pile. Robinson, Uggla, Gwynn, Rich Hill. Let’s see how long they and the others with opt outs stick around.

    9) Nice to see Taylor Jordan relevant again.


    8 Apr 15 at 3:02 pm

  5. 10) Hard not to raise eyebrows with the minor league rosters. As it has been every year, the promotions are eclipsed by the absences and the mysteries surrounding the absences. The XST group is unmistakeably the great majority of the top pitching prospects in the system. It seems like the kid gloves approach is now contagious and de rigeur — or, that the nats will NOT shut down stars in September for innings limits and kill postseason chances for their affiliates. The Syracuse Chiefs were as annoyed with Cole being unavailable to them last fall (as well as the pillaging of Souza and others) as were the Hagerstown Suns peeved about no Giolito, with both teams falling in the playoffs.

    To date, we do no not know the destination of many notable Nats prospects who are not listed on rosters. Specifically: Brian Goodwin (OK, well we know he’s hurt), John Simms, Sammy Solis (no surprise), Matt Purke (see Solis), Hector Silvestre, Jake Walsh, Ian Dickson, Jefry Rodriguez, Robbie Dickey, and any new Dominicans for Hagerstown (none).

    A couple of missing folks who may be gone are Neil Holland and Brett Mooneyham, the former notable because he was in the AFL, the latter because the organization drafted him twice and he looked promising two years ago.

    It seems the organization is rolling out the XST formula in a big way this year. Start late, finish the season with your best people for the playoffs. Rey Lopez started late last year as well, and by years end was all the rage.

    11) And then there are the unexpected promotions and smoke signals. Felipe Rivero in the bullpen (after the Nats pegged him a starter only a few weeks ago) and in AAA. Jason Martinson in AAA, a shortstop first, as is Burruss. Martinson invariably stinks when he gets to the next level. But his power and speed and the Desmond situation made this one catch my attention. Caleb Ramsey to AAA – seems a temporary shot for him as well, affected by injuries to Span and Werth. Matt Swynenberg to the AA starting rotation – perhaps just a placeholder until the XSTs sort out who is king of the hill at Harrisburg vs. Potomac.

    And, perhaps most notably, Trea Turner to AA. 🙂

    12) Then, the unanticipated demotions or stalls. Matt Skole left in AA after a strong showing in the ML camp. So they want him to dominate. Paolo Espino back to AA was a surprise. John Wooten in A+.

    Let the games begin!


    8 Apr 15 at 3:14 pm

  6. Forensicane; why did you not think Escobar was going to be in the opening day lineup? Everyone else saw that trade for what it seemed to be: acquiring a starting second baseman since the team is clearly fed up with starting Espinosa.

    Todd Boss

    8 Apr 15 at 3:21 pm

  7. Because we all knew the team lost last fall because of a lack of offense. Escobar was not going to be a meaningful upgrade over Cabrera offensively and a team that plunks down 210 million dollars on a starter upgrade is not going to make a personnel decision simply because a player is under contract through 2017 (Escobar).

    My read on Rizzo and the formula for the Nats is that they groom and trade for superstar players at each starting spot. That’s why they paid for Sherzer, that’s why they paid for Soriano, that’s why they got Span (whom rizzo would say played last year the way they thought he could).

    Philosophically, I think that’s why they traded Souza. Not because they did not think he could be excellent, but because they concluded that within the next two years, they could foresee room for no more than one starter in the outfield, and the player with the higher ceiling was Taylor.

    Escobar is a man who perhaps can rebound. But even if he rebounds, he does not provide a championship talent. he provides flexibility and, MOST importantly, they traded for him at a time when he provided far more irreplaceable value to the roster’s needs than Tyler Clippard.

    I see the roster in flux beyond just people on the DL. Hey, the Padres made THE biggest trade of the whole off season the day before the opener! So the injury situation and the luxury of XST has given the organization the wherewithal to make certain decisions slower than others.

    Really, now: if Turner lights up AA, what then? If he and Difo fall on their face, what then? If Desmond tears it up, what then?

    Escobar to me is just like Edwin Jackson as a 4th starter. Love the one you’re with, but appreciating that there is a Doug Fister out there who will make you glad that Edwin Jackson is somewhere else.


    8 Apr 15 at 3:53 pm

  8. By the way, the scenarios for next year at SS cannot exclude Anthony Rendon as a starting SS. I know, I know, but he looked great at SS two years ago in spring training. He’s a great player and if THE fast riser this year is, let’s just say, Matt Skole, and he happens to be a capable third baseman after all, what then? Obviously that is a more realistic option than Danny Espinosa as the starting shortstop.

    Escobar will get the chance to prove himself and we are all rooting for him. But this organization does an excellent job of thinking through contingencies to 2016 and beyond.


    8 Apr 15 at 3:58 pm

  9. Todd, this type of review is what your site is best at!
    A lot of those XST pitchers to me are just waiting for the weather in Hagerstown & Potomac to start warming up a bit. No problem for me.
    Trea Turner in AA is a big Wow to me. If he does well there he’s a little farther along than most thought.

    Starting about May 1, how exciting is it going to be down at the PFitz this year? At least for the first few months before promotions.
    Lopez & Giolito back-to-back; oh my!

    Mark L

    8 Apr 15 at 7:37 pm

  10. Lots of thoughts, but not a lot of time tonight. So a few random things:

    –I think Treinen has seen his last of Syracuse. He’ll be a reliever this year, perhaps a prominent one, then will be given a shot at one of the starter slots in ’16.

    –I agree with forensicane that Mooneyham may be on the chopping block. He just hasn’t gotten it done.

    –I’m hoping Solis gets another look as a starter. It’s probably hoping against hope that Purke does as well.

    –I would be upset if Giolito WASN’T on an innings limit! But yes, I’m very eager to see him and Lopez at Potomac.

    –I’m not sure why so many of the other hurlers on on XST, but there’s no harm in being careful.

    –I would like to see Schwartz get another shot in the rotation at Potomac, at least until the big dogs arrive. He was very good there in ’13, struggled with the step to AA, then got hurt I believe.

    –Beyond the pitchers, I’m starting to get worried about Goodwin.


    8 Apr 15 at 8:31 pm

  11. I think Treinen winds up their most valuable reliever this year, and it will probably rule out a return to the rotation for him (ie maybe he is their closer).

    I am ready for some turnover in the pen. I’d like to see Martin, Grace, Rivero up this year. And I think Cole winds up a reliever, although it’s too soon for that.

    Zim looks good at first. I have gone from hoping they never hit it to him (when he was at third) to hoping they do.

    Escobar looks solid. I think he will help the team over the next few years, due to his positional flexibility. Not a star, but better than I thought.

    I don’t know how this Uggla thing will work out, but I will go out on a limb and say that, between what I saw in ST and these few games, he looks different. He is putting some good swings on the ball.


    8 Apr 15 at 9:52 pm

  12. Harper to RF is looking smart, too. Held two guys to very long singles. I am sure he is going to do some bonehead play soo, but the switch with Werth was a good one.


    8 Apr 15 at 10:07 pm

  13. Treinen was 98 on most pitches in the 8th, but he did give up three hard hit shots


    8 Apr 15 at 10:12 pm

  14. Good writeup. Thanks Todd!

    The cupboard seems full – and I agree with Mark about leaving top pitchers in Florida til the weather turns while in the meantime keeping their innings down – makes a lot of sense!

    Treinen was really good today, but Harper is looking awesome so far in the field and at the plate.

    We just need more hitters – what is Tyler Moore doing blowing this chance? He has 3-4 more games before Werth is back and the window closes.

    Andrew R

    8 Apr 15 at 11:59 pm

  15. My initial impressions of the team mirror Wally’s sentiments. I like Zimmerman at 1st; i think he’s a gold glover over there. Escobar looks aggressive and dangerous at the plate; good confident swings. Too bad he’s getting dumped to #7 hole when Rendon gets back. Taylor so far at the plate: overmatched. Uggla; also a confident player, but not much to show for it yet. Harper in RF was always the right thing to do given his 80 arm. Treinen’s 98mph sinker may have gotten touched hard, but the ball was still on the ground and he got outs. While I like him as a starter, its clear he’s going to be a valuable bullpen guy this year with the loss of Clippard and Soriano (and the injury to Janssen).

    Todd Boss

    9 Apr 15 at 8:48 am

  16. Was at the game today, and Taylor showed a little flash of why his potential is so exciting. Most days when it isn’t so cold and damp, that double he hit off the wall would have been a booming three run shot. Meanwhile, Strasburg continues to show why he’ll likely never be an ace despite his natural talent and Desmond’s “walk year” is off to a dismal start.

    Also, thumbs up to Tanner Roark. He got hosed in the rotation shuffle, but went right out there and fired two excellent innings in relief today.

    Karl Kolchack

    9 Apr 15 at 7:03 pm

  17. Yes, it was very good to see Roark have a solid outing. The rest of the stuff is frustrating but should even itself out. The team can’t keep striking out at the same rate, though – *30* times in three games.


    9 Apr 15 at 9:58 pm

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