Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats System 2016 Pitching Staff Projections


Scherzer leads the MLB rotation for a second year. Photo via

Scherzer leads the MLB rotation for a second year. Photo via

(Editor note: I was out of the country for the last week; good timing in terms of missing the snow, but not so much for trying to get on a flight back to DC.  Never got one actually; had to settle for a flight to JFK last night and a train ride ride down).

Now that we’re through all the 2015 Pitching staff review series, level by level, here’s a summary projection of what the pitching staffs may look like for 2016.  These projections are based on the 7 deep dive rotation reviews but are all put in one place.  Since player movement occurs daily, I may have missed one or two MLFA signings but these should be up-to-date as of the time of publishing.

All the reviews in the 2015 series:


Nats System Staff projections for 2016 season

(* == lefty, ^ == MLFA or new acquisition for 2016)


  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Gonzalez*, Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Treinen, Rivero*, Perez*^, Kelley^, Gott^, Petit^, Barrett (60-day DL)
  • out of organization: Zimmermann, Fister, Storen (traded), Thornton*, Janssen, Carpenter, Stammen (non-tendered)

Quick Discussion: This assumes no more rotation acquisitions; if one occurs, bump Roark to long-man with Treinen then getting dumped to AAA save for injury (See next section for the Arroyo discussion).  It looks like the team can’t move Papelbon for anything of value and refuses to eat $11M and instead moved Storen for something we do value (a CF).  I know they’re still connected to random starters here and there, which continues my amazement in their lack of trust of Roark as an effective 5th starter (I guess his 50 innings in 2013 and 200 awesome innings in 2014 just weren’t convincing enough).  Honestly if they don’t trust Roark, then just call up Giolito.  This is their last season with Strasburg and one of their last with Harper, so “saving” Giolito at this “win now” point seems dumb.  We’ll see.


  • Rotation: Cole, Jordan, Espino, Voth, Laffey*^, THill, Arroyo^
  • Bullpen: Martin, Solis*, Grace*, Brady^, Bacus, de los Santos, Runion, Velasquez^, Masset^, EDavis, Burnett*^
  • Release Candidates: McGregor, Walters
  • out of organization: Billings, Bleier*, Swynenberg, Fornataro, Meek, Runion, Lively, Gutierrez, Valverde, Delcarmen, RHill, Overton

Quick Discussion: Both Hill and Davis took outright assignments to AAA to stick with the team after being DFA’d in the last few weeks: this could lead to some downstream moves in spring training (specifically someone like McGregor getting squeezed in a numbers game).  We have slightly overloaded the bullpen assuming that there’s some injuries to come.  Only a few “veteran MLFA” types listed here, a good sign for the system and its ability to generate upper-level minor league talent, but seemingly every other day we hear about more such signings, probably for competition purposes and/or to fulfil what seems to be the annual ritual of giving guys a few weeks of meal money to throw innings in spring training for one last shot at a roster spot.

The very recent signing of Bronson Arroyo is an interesting one; he’ll be 40, coming off of TJ and has shown himself to be effective even despite a lack of velocity even deep into his 30s.  Is he a competitor to Roark for the 5th starter spot?  Is this a favor to Dusty Baker?  For now, i’m putting him as AAA depth but have to think he’s got an opt-out if he doesn’t make the MLB team so he’s likely to be either the 5th starter or a FA come 4/1/16.

Post-publish edit: thanks to JohnC, I totally forgot about our early off-season MLFA signing of Sean Burnett, our old favorite loogy (who also happens to throw the ball right handed while shagging flies in the OF).  If he doesn’t have an opt-out, I’ll project him as a Syracuse loogy but perhaps behind Solis and Grace thanks to his lack of 40-man status.  I hope he’s still got it after two TJs.


  • Rotation: Spann*, Giolito, Simms, Alderson, Lopez, Mapes, Gorski^
  • Bullpen: Mendez, Harper*, Shackelford^, NLee*, Benincasa, Suero, Thomas*, Walsh*, Robinson^, Whiting^
  • Release Candidates: Rauh, Bates, Self, Dupra
  • out of organization: Purke*, Pivetta, Simmons, Demny, Ambriz, Gilliam

Quick Discussion: here’s where we start to see some log jamming going on; we already have 6 good candidates for the AA rotation (and that was before the recently announced Gorski signing), 10 for the bullpen (some of which already have been promoted to AAA in 2015) and another 4 guys who could still slot in somewhere who i’ve called “release candidates” because of the numbers game.  That’s 20+ guys for 12-13 slots.  Do they get pushed down and cause cascading High-A fall out (where the story is the same?) or do we see some wholesale shredding of contracts this coming spring training?  Do you move UP guys like Giolito, Harper instead and cut AAA veteran MLFAs?


  • Rotation: AWilliams, Valdez, Dickson, Bach*, Van Orden, Fedde
  • Bullpen: Johanssen, Amlung (swingman),  Napoli*, Orlan*, Glover, Brinley, Sylvestre*
  • Release Candidates: RPena, Turnbull*
  • out of organization: Schwartz, Howell, CDavis, MRodriguez, Cooper (just released)

Quick Discussion: Again, I see this as an overloaded squad; 6 starters, 10 relievers.  Perhaps some AA guys drop down, perhaps there’s guys listed here to are more likely release candidates than sure things (Napoli?  Amlung?  Johanssen even?). We may eventually get our answer; the team just released Cooper despite my thinking he was more or less a lock for the Potomac bullpen in 2016.   I’m really curious to see what a couple of the starters here do this year in particular: Austen Williams and Erick Fedde.  We talked earlier about Fedde perhaps starting the season in Hagerstown … but as we’re about to see, there’s just so many guys for a couple of slots.


  • Rotation: LReyes, JRodriguez, ALee, Dickey, Hearn*, Crownover*
  • Bullpen: MSanchez (swingman),  Guilbeau*, Borne*, Rivera Jr., Gunter, Peterson, Baez
  • release candidate: Estevez, DWilliams, DRamos, Boghosian, Mooney, Pirro
  • out of organization: Ullmann, KPerez, Mooneyham, Johns (just released)

Quick Discussion: 6 projected starters, another 8 for the bullpen, and another 6 relievers who … well, i’m not sure where you put them.  You can’t have 20 pitchers in XST can you?  Well, maybe you can and they can catch on with the short-season squads … but look at who is already projected for Short-A below.  In the comments section of the Short-A post a few weeks back, we talked about the four lefty college starters who were drafted and in the Auburn rotation (Hearn, Crownover, Guilbeau and Borne); all had more or less the same pro numbers in Auburn; who stays in the rotation moving up?  Who goes to the pen?  There were already 4 guys who made sense to project to the Hagerstown rotation; where are 4 more college lefties going to go?  Its almost like the team needs an entire additional low-A team to staff.


  • Rotation: Bourque, AMartinez, Valero, Watson
  • Bullpen: Morales (swingman), LTorres, Acevedo, Harmening, Serrata
  • release candidates: Feliz, Reynoso, Mills, DeRosier, VanVossen, Copping, Pantoja
  • out of organization: Overton, Plouck, Webb, McDowell, Sylvestri

Quick Discussion: I’ve already got nearly a full squad of arms for short-A as it is, and we havn’t accounted for any 2016 draftees nor potential dropdowns from Hagerstown.  I just feel like there’s going to be some whole sale releases this spring.  Either that or Rizzo is going to draft nothing but bats in 2016.


  • Rotation: Avila, Fuentes, WPena
  • Bullpen: CPena
  • release candidate: De La Cruz
  • out of organization: Salazar, Jauss, DVasquez, Morel, EGomez, Charlis, JRamirez, Costa, Uribarri, Mancini, Yrizarri, Bermudez

Quick discussion: practically nobody in the domestic system right now projects to repeat the Rookie league, which means that a) we should expect a ton of guys to make their way from the DSL and/or b) we should expect more 2016 draftees to start here.  Perhaps I should have done a review of the DSL guys to make predictions on who earned their way off the island.



Guys who really impressed me in 2015 and to watch out for in 2016.  Kind of my own version of Luke’s “watch list” but I was definitely struck by several guys while doing these posts and here’s the list.

  • MLB: Ross, Rivero
  • AAA: Espino, Martin
  • AA: Voth, Giolito, de los Santos, Harper, NLee
  • High-A: Lopez, Mapes, Walsh
  • Low-A: Valdez, ALee, Orlan, Glover, Brinley
  • Short-A: AWilliams,Fedde, Rivera Jr, Johns (why was he released??)
  • Rookie: Valero, Watson, Avila



21 Responses to 'Nats System 2016 Pitching Staff Projections'

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  1. Great list, Todd, and welcome back. One minor addition to the teeming hordes of pitching candidates: MLFA/Former Nat Sean Burnett!

    John C.

    28 Jan 16 at 10:25 am

  2. damn! how’d i forget him.

    Todd Boss

    28 Jan 16 at 10:31 am

  3. I knew i’d forget someone. Burnett; I guess you put him on Syracuse’ squad, but (like Arroyo) I wonder if he’s not the kind of MLFA who will have an opt out if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster. So he baseically gets a free exhibition pass to showcase his wares for all to see on our travel squad.

    Todd Boss

    28 Jan 16 at 10:33 am

  4. Great stuff, Todd. I don’t see any places where I adamantly disagree. I see several where I, like you, are curious to see what the Nats will do.

    –Arroyo: I haven’t understood the quest for another starter, particularly at the level that someone like Leake or Chen would have required. Roark should be able to beat out Arroyo. If he can’t, then we’ve got more problems than we thought. I think Arroyo is on a Chris Young deal and will be somewhere else at the end of the spring, not packing for Syracuse.

    –AAA: Why haven’t the Nats parlayed Jordan into something? He’s not a bad pitcher, but his MLB prospects with the Nats are very small. Cole, Voth, Giolito, and spot starts from Treinen are probably all head on Jordan on the call list now. I’m glad Hill is around for one more look, as he was very good in ’14. I do think they push Voth on up to AAA, as he spent a lot of time in AA. Do they go ahead and move up Giolito as well?

    –AA: Here and below, the Nats have to be honest about who the better prospect are, and aren’t. Giolito and Lopez are the top tier, Simms and Mapes have proven worth a good look. Austen Williams had nearly a half season at Potomac, so I’d be pushing
    him on to AA. Gorski can pitch in April until Giolito and Lopez come out of XST. (And as we’ve discussed, we’re holding our collective breath to see if Lopez can remain a starter.)

    –High-A: Here are two stat lines from Hagerstown, where one guy had 29.0 IP and one 29.1: A) 2.15 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, .171 AVG against; B) 4.34 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, .224 AVG against. Who do you push to Potomac? If you said A, that’s Andrew Lee; B is
    Fedde. If it’s me, I’m starting Fedde at Low-A but ready to move him up with four good outings.

    –Low-A: Auburn needed a 10-man rotation, and now that show moves to Hagerstown. How do you pick among the quartet of lefty starters? From the very little I’ve heard, Hearn is supposed to have the most physical talent upside, and Crownover is said to be the most polished, so if I had to guess two for the rotation, I think you’ve got them. If I’m the farm director (or Rizzo), I also want to give my 4th
    rounder (Son of Sandman) one more look at starting.


    28 Jan 16 at 1:24 pm

  5. I think the Arroyo arrangement is more complicated and relates to his relationship with Dusty and future ambitions as a pitching coach. No way do I think he breaks camp on the 25 man, and that’s fine, because things worked out well for Chris Young and the Nats are the better for it.

    The Nats have more pitchers on the verge than at any time in my recollection: Cole, Jordan, Voth, Giolito, Solis, Grace, Martin, Treinen, Ross, (yes, I know they are on the ML roster, but his career can go either way) and the mental game and how it gets translated from Maddux and Arroyo is an invaluable lesson of Spring training.

    And if Arroyo has a lot in the tank, they have a nice contract for him for both sides.


    29 Jan 16 at 10:52 am

  6. Todd, thank you as always. Just outstanding and very unselfish of your time.

    A few Nats ML notes for consideration:

    1) The Nats have a player coming back from the Jays, and I would bet it will be a pitcher. The last time the Nats did this, it was a wait and scout during spring training after the Morse deal and the arm was Ian Krol. On that topic, I don;t think it’s resolved what Michael Brady’s role is going to be, but he is more than a throw in. Incredible control and low mileage on his arm, new to pitching. A good project for the coaching staff.

    2) Interesting that Matt Thornton and Craig Stammen remain unsigned. Nats offered Stammen a contract before cutting him loose. Perhaps the possibility of a reunion remains on a no risk deal. I still think the Nats are sniffing at Clippard. He is not Doug Fister in terms of demonstrated decline. If they can sign him and have an option year attached, I would love that deal.

    3) I, too am delighted that Davis and Hill are back. Hill has shown what he can do at AAA, fields his position well, and so he adds far more value — present and future — than do the retreads from other organizations. Davis is a proven arm who needs to be seen with enough time after surgery. Let’s see what he has…McGregor was well thought of and if he is released, that will be a bellweather, at the end of spring, of organizational health and strength on our depth in the upper minors pitching. Espino is someone who is also at the verge, totally overlooked (except here in your earlier post) and who adds to the depth at AAA. I don’t expect Velasquez or Massett to be anything more than spring training cannon fodder for “B” games and inning eating. I also think Bryan Harper will be in AAA, unless crowded out by Grace and Solis.

    4) As for AA, I think the Spann ship has sailed and I see him as a release candidate. There are others whose spring might get them a shot — Hector Silvestre (who should be on this list), or Ian Dickson (if his command returns). But Gio, Simms, Lopez, and Mapes make sense. I would also consider Phillips Valdez to be a possibility, depending on the camp he has. Or, whomever they acquire from Toronto, or Michael Brady as a starter. Alderson is likewise a bellweather for starting pitching depth at AA. If he is released, the organization is healthy and deep in AA rotation options. The four release candidates in AA are really a guess; all four of them could just as on take a step forward and have more value than the other minor league arms added in the off season. Bates was an all star, Self was once an AFL arm, Dupra also showed well lower down and Rauh started so fast last year. Not every pitcher who hits a wall is Schwartz.

    5) I like your A+ rotation, with allowance for the notes above. The bullpen also makes sense, though it is now or never for Johannsen. Turnbull is a wild card and as a lefty arm I think he gets an extra life, as did Mooneyham once.

    6) A- is an interesting level with a lot of ducks snapping for a piece of bread. Lee, Crownower, and Hearn are obvious choices, as is JRodriguez (another now or never guy). I think Dickey is a release candidate or short A guy. Torres is a maybe, but there are others who may beat him out. My money is on Grant Borne, or Baez. If Baez does not beat him out I see him at short A in the rotation or next man up in an injury. Bullpen is anyone’s guess (after Rivera), but I don’t see them giving up on DWilliams yet. He is too coachable and well liked in the organization personally. And Mooney is local, so that gets him another chance.

    7)Lower than that is completely predicated on the anticipated 2016 draft. With that said, the more exciting possibilities are Valerio, Watson, Avila, Fuentes, and WPena and others not above — Gilberto Chu for example. See those names? Yes, it is exciting to take in the news this week that the Nats are expected to be much more active this year on the international front. Perhaps that to include Cuban talent, especially since supply is going to drive down prices and place a premium on good scouting (see Robles and Franco).

    8) Off the mound, 2018 is shaping up as a very interesting outfield year in the organization and franchise. There are at least three outfield prospects who have the potential to be ready for prime time in 2018; the same year as the expiration of Werth and Revere and a year before Bryce Harper *may* leave (although I think the Nats will sign him.

    Robles is on a star track to be ML ready in 2018. Andrew Stephenson is perhaps the most rising stock among prospects over the past few months. He has elite defense and base-stealing speed, showed adequate offense but has team-leader work ethic and the staff is working to refine his punch. He reads now like a quantum leap upgrade over Billy Burns and a more skilled upside than denDekker. He, too, should be on track for being ready by 2018. Up the chain, Rafael Bautista is a forgotten name but a player who has excelled and, now healthy, ought to be a major contributor at AA this year. He is a lot more than Eury Perez and I do not write off his potential to be a starting ML outfielder, especially as good a basestealer as he is. And I am just a softee for the GCL Baby Nats ’13 pedigree. I’m sure some of you are thinking about Brian Goodwin, but he has to bloom on the full season stage first.

    9) Virtually no attention has been given to the next wave of middle infielders, but they are there and coming. Abreu, Mejia, Lora, Schrock, Dulin, and Difo are all far more skilled than other options in the past, and will jam up the A- and A+ level this year until promotion time. Two or more of them will take a big step up this year and it will be delightful to watch. All the more reason to let Desmond move on unless the Nats can do a sign and trade with the Rays. And all the more reason to like Daniel Murphy’s positional versatility going forward.


    29 Jan 16 at 1:48 pm

  7. I don’t generally start paying attention to these guys until they get to AA. But I’d say that, big picture, the Nats have some pretty good pitching in the organization. Giolito is the only ace prospect but I am still pretty high on Lopez, and Fedde is a wild card that could be a Znn type if he comes all the way back. On top of that, they seem to have a host of guys who can at least be back end rotation guys and bullpen pieces, and that is an important way to make your payroll efficient. Position players still seem sparse, but maybe that worm is starting to turn too, with Stevenson, Franco and Perkins joining Turner and Robles as legit prospects (ok, maybe that’s premature).

    What do people think about these reports that the Nats are going to blow through their Int’l budget come July, and are the favorites for the leading DR prospect (a SS)? Maybe that’s why they didn’t mind giving up a draft pick for Murphy.


    29 Jan 16 at 9:50 pm

  8. Forensicane; great analysis. Hard to follow up that comment 🙂’s top 100 for 2016 jsut came out: .

    3. Lucas Giolito
    11. Trea Turner
    63. Victor Robles
    78. Erick Fedde

    And in a subsequent post featuring “Best Tools” Giolito had the both the best Fastball and best Curveball as an individual tool in the minors. Both 70+ grade. that’s pretty amazing. Pitchers with two plus-plus tools are usually immediately in the Top-15 of the league (Kershaw w/ his FB and curve, Strasburg with his FB and changeup, etc).

    Surprised Fedde is still that high for them. And i gotta admit i’m shocked Trea Turner is that high. Lopez may have just missed out on the top 100, which featured a ton of 2015 draftees (Dansby Swanson was super high as well, also surprising me).

    Todd Boss

    30 Jan 16 at 7:58 am

  9. Does anyone recall reading something about one of our lefty 2015 starter draftees reaching 99 and having a size 17 shoe? Where did I read that? Was it Taylor Hearn?

    Todd Boss

    30 Jan 16 at 8:02 am

  10. Yeah, I think that’s Hearn, but don’t quote me on that.

    Here’s a HUGE issue that I haven’t seen discussed. By my calculations, Ross is good for about 180 innings, which will only get him to the beginning of Sept., if that. Then what’s the plan? If it is for Gioloto to have a Thor-like stretch run, then he’s REALLY going to have to be managed, as he’s only good for ~140-45. If not him, then who? A trade-deadline acquisition?

    All of this is on top of the concern of whether Roark or Ross might falter.


    31 Jan 16 at 8:02 am

  11. If the Nats are “smart” they’ll take the same path that the Mets tried to do with Harvey; the gradual slowdown plan where Ross skips starts throughout the year (with call-ups like Cole, Jordan, Voth handling spot starts) so that he’s available for a September run.

    If Roark falls on his face and the team can’t get 5th starter quality cover from AAA, i’d just frigging call Giolito up. He’s got two 70+ pitches and can at elsat be a 5th starter right now.

    Todd Boss

    31 Jan 16 at 8:18 am

  12. I’d be thrilled if the Nats just let Giolito and Lopez hang out in Fla. for the month of April again. That would take care of the Ross issue and keep Giolito relevant in September.

    Rkght now, Robles is on the same age/track that Harper was. Without any hiccups he’ll be in Potomac by the end of the year. Not sure when he turns 19.

    Mark L

    31 Jan 16 at 10:06 am

  13. It is Hearn. You also have to take note of a guy drafted by three different organizations despite pitching off the radar.

    As for Giolito, I agree with you Todd 100%. I think the Nats are preparing him to come up faster than others expect, but since they have the five they have, there is no need to keep him from proving himself beforehand.

    It’s not fair to compare Robles to Harper. Harper was the best prospect of many years. If Robles is on a Buxton track, then the prospect of a Harper/Robles/Taylor outfield for years to come is exciting, under ideal projections.

    The reality is that at this time last year, no one was speaking about Robles beyond a few whispers. One year from now, someone else will emerge and give the Nats what depth always gives.


    31 Jan 16 at 11:49 am

  14. Robles turns 19 in mid-May. I’m hoping he could potentially be up shortly after his 20th birthday and no later than his 21st.

    Andrew R

    31 Jan 16 at 6:58 pm

  15. So Luke published the BA top 30 prospects. No Kieboom or Marmelojos, which surprised me.

    Also seems like BA ranked the Nats 5th overall. Apparently they thought the 2015 draft was very strong. Seems high to me, but I tend towards skepticism usually. Juan Soto cracked the list, it will be interesting to see how he does this year.


    31 Jan 16 at 8:12 pm

  16. I’ve just added the BA handbook top 30 to the big XLS I maintain. Kieboom, Marmeloojos are indeed surprising omissions (especially the latter given his player of the year award). Other interesting omissions:
    – Jake Johanssen: oh how far he has fallen.
    – Jefry Rodriguez: It wasn’t that long ago that he was 6th or so in the system.
    – Matt Skole: I hold out hope
    – Drew Vettleson: wasn’t he supposed to be the better of the two players Karns netted?

    Todd Boss

    31 Jan 16 at 8:17 pm

  17. Of that list, I think only Jefry R has a chance, and that is because he was relatively new to pitching. I think Skole and Vettleson are out of the org by next year, unfortunately for them.

    I am kind of interested to see what they do in the draft and IFA signings this year. Could be that Rizzo is setting the groundwork for the 2020 wave.


    31 Jan 16 at 8:39 pm

  18. We all have our favorites.

    Those of mine who did not show in the BA top 30 are
    Bryan Mejia, Jose Marmelos-Diaz, Rafael Martin
    Andrew Lee, John Simms, Isaac Ballou,
    Spencer Kieboom, Max Schrock, Telmito Agustin, Tyler Mapes, and Pedro Avila.

    Apart from this reflecting on my lack of credibility, the divergence does reflect how the lower minors have improved from a real Latin infusion over the past couple of years, though still with few elite players in the system.

    I’m still holding out for both Skole and Vettleson, the latter deserving a look when fully healthy.


    31 Jan 16 at 9:00 pm

  19. Its amazing to me how little credence RH relievers get in terms of prospect worthiness. I mean, Yes I get it (relievers are just failed starters, they’re fungible, etc), but when a guy like Aaron Barrett can literally never be ranked by the major scouting branches (highest I have him on my XLS is 12th in Dec 2013 seedlings to the stars rankings) to being an effective 7th inning guy on a playoff team, you kind of have to wonder if there’s a blind spot.

    Todd Boss

    1 Feb 16 at 8:46 am

  20. I hate sounding like a caricature of Trump, but I remember being a lone voice touting Aaron Barrett before being a lone voice touting Tanner Roark before being a lone voice touting Rafael Martin.

    Todd, I agree with you on the reliever front, but the Nats have not developed someone with frontline closer quality since the aforementioned Barrett and Martin. One might just as well say that De Los Santos is overhyped, and that Mendez plateaued and Benincasa was the heir to Storen and got hurt. Christian Garcia was thought of as a top relief prospect whose arm died.

    Watch Koda Glover, who is the next guy up the prospect list. Both he and Rivera are just drafted but a big year will place them much higher up the organizational chain and prospect chatter as well.

    For others, it is not so much that they fail as it is that they transcend when they move to one inning use. The potential is certainly there for Rivero, and one has to also wonder whether the addition of Maddux to Spin Williams means a rise for Treinen, Solis, and Rey Lopez in that regard.


    1 Feb 16 at 10:57 am

  21. […] reviewing all the 2015 pitching staffs, I projected where I thought everyone would start in […]

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