Nationals Arm Race

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

Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs last fall’s Predictions 2016 Version


Giolito's in AA to start ... does he ever even see AAA? Photo Eric Dearborn via win-for-teddy blog

Giolito’s in AA to start … does he ever even see AAA? Photo Eric Dearborn via win-for-teddy blog

After reviewing all the 2015 pitching staffs, I projected where I thought everyone would start in 2016.

Now that the four full-season affiliates have been announced, lets see how my predictions turned out.  As always, the Big Board (maintained by SpringfieldFan) is a great resource to track everyone.

Notations here: * = lefty, ^ == new off-season acquisition.  Also, “Missing” usually means “Stuck in Extended Spring Trianing/XST” or in organizational limbo.


MLB Predicted

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

MLB Actual Opening day

  • Rotation: Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez*, Ross, Roark
  • Bullpen: Papelbon, Treinen, Rivero*, Perez*, Kelley, Belisle, Petit
  • D/L: Barrett (60-day DL)

Discussion: only one surprise from the pre-Spring Training prediction for this team: Matt Belisle makes the team ahead of Trevor Gott.  Otherwise everyone is in the roles they were acquired to hold.  There was some question about whether Blake Treinen would get optioned early in the spring, but not now.  The order of the starters wasn’t right: Ross is being treated like the 4th starter and Roark the 3rd, I guess.

It probably wasn’t too hard to predict 12 out of the 13 spots in the MLB roster, so we won’t pat ourselves on the back too much.  Lets talk minors.

AAA Predicted

  • 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

AAA Actual

  • starters: Cole, Jordan, Espino, THill, Voth
  • spot starts/swingman: Laffey*
  • bullpen: Martin, Solis*, Grace*, Runion, Massett, EDavis, Gott
  • dl/restricted: Arroyo, Brady
  • in AA: Bacus, de los Santos
  • missing: no one
  • cut/released/FAs: McGregor, Velasquez, Walters, Burnett (opted-out)

Discussion: No surprises in the Rotation: we predicted 7 guys in the AAA rotation competition and ended up with the 5 we predicted, a 6th as the swing-man/spot starter and the 7th (Arroyo) on the D/L for the time being.

The bullpen has some surprises: Gott as previously mentioned was projected in the majors; the other 6 bullpen members were in the 10 projected guys competing for the AAA spots.  Two guys got pushed to AA.  Brady starts on the D/L.  Both my release candidates did in fact get released, along with off-season MLFA Velasquez.  The real surprise making the AAA team was Masset.

Burnett opted out when he didn’t make the MLB team, but it wasn’t a stretch to predict that happening.

No real projection surprises though, all in all.  Nobody who we projected to start in AA got moved up; only a couple guys who got moved down (Bacus and de los Santos).  I’m slightly surprised de los Santos is in AA and it makes me question even more his 40-man add and usage last year (3 days of service time and now two options blown).

AA Projected

  • Rotation: Spann*, Giolito, Simms, Alderson, RLopez, 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

AA Announced

  • starters: Giolito, Simms, RLopez, AWilliams, Mapes
  • spot starts/swingman:
  • bullpen: Mendez, Harper*, NLee*,  Suero, Fish*, Bacus,  Gutierrez, de los Santos
  • In High-A: Thomas*, Robinson, Whiting, Rauh, Self
  • dl/restricted: none
  • missing: Spann*, Alderson, Shackelford, Benincasa, Bates
  • cut/released/FAs: Gorski, Walsh*, Dupra


The big surprise here is that Austen Williams made the AA team; I had him at High-A.  Perhaps it isn’t THAT big of a surprise given how well he pitched last year, but it does seem to go away from the Nats’ proclivities to start guys at their prior season’s level and have them “earn” early to mid-season promotions.  He joins a pretty high powered duo of Giolito and LopezGorski was an off-season MLFA brought in for competition and he didn’t win.  Only one of my four release candidates was in fact released (Dupra): the other three got dumped to XLS or High-A, which is good for them but not good for the massive log-jam of recently drafted college arms who need spots in A-ball.

In the bullpen, we’ve talked before about the surprising release of Jake Walsh.  There’s 5 guys stuck in XST limbo for now, a couple of which are release candidates.  One name that popped out of the blue is Robert Fish, who signed an under-the radar MLFA deal in mid February and who apparently hasn’t pitched professionally in two full seasons.  He must have had a pretty good spring.

High-A Projected

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

High-A Announced

  • starters: Fedde, Valdez, Estevez, LReyes,  Whiting
  • spot starts/swingman: Sanchez,
  • bullpen: Brinley, Glover, Johansen, Orlan*, Robinson, Self, Thomas*
  • dl/restricted: Rauh, Sylvestre*,  Turnbull*
  • missing: Bach*
  • cut/released/FAs: Walsh, Dupra, Dickson, Van Orden, Amlung, Napoli*

Discussion: My High-A predictions show just how out of whack my “reading the stat lines” predictions can be, especially for starters.

In the Rotation, AWilliams earned a jump to AA.  I thought Dickson and Van Orden were solid rotation candidates; instead they got released.  Lastly, I thought both Estevez and Reyes were repeating Hagerstown; Estevez missed the whole season and Reyes posted a 4.82 ERA there last year.  Instead they’re opening day starters for Potomac.  Not even close here.

In the Bullpen, we got Johanssen, Orlan, Glover, Brinley, Sylvestre and Turnbull right (not too bad prediction wise), though the last couple guys are on the D/L and still may be release candidates.  Who did we miss on?  Robinson was an off-season MLFA (who signs MLFAs for high-A?), and Sanchez I had projected to repeat after posting a 4.86 in Hagerstown last year.


Low-A Projected

  • 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)

Low-A Actual

  • starters: JRodriguez, ALee, Hearn*, Crownover*, Guilbeau*, Bach,
  • spot starts/swingman:
  • bullpen: Rivera Jr, Peterson, Baez, VanVossen, LTorres, RPena, DeRosier,
  • dl/restricted: JMorales
  • missing: Dickey, Borne*, Gunter, DRamos, Mooney, Pirro
  • cut/released/FAs: Amlung, Van Orden, Napoli*, DWilliams, Boghosian


From a starter standpoint, we did a pretty good job projecting who would be in Hagerstown’s rotation.  Four of the Six projected candidates “seem” like they’re in the rotation (full disclosure, we’re kind of guessing who these teams are using as starters until we see the first turn through the rotation).  The misses?  LReyes, who surprisingly is in High-A, and Guilbeau, who I thought would be on the team but in a relief role.

In the bullpen; we missed on Sanchez (who made High-A), Borne and Gunter (both of whom are in XST for now).  In their place are a slew of guys who I was projecting to be elsewhere.  I thought both VanVossen and DeRosier were release candidates after poor 2015 seasons in Short-A; instead they’re in the opening day bullpen.  I had LTorres in the Short-A bullpen after mostly failing as a short-A starter.

Lastly there’s Bach and RPena; I had both projected in Potomac.  I thought Bach had a perfectly good Low-A season last year and has nothing yet to prove in the Sally League.  Pena returns to Hagerstown for the third time; he pitched in Low-A in 2013 and 2014.  You have to think this is a planned short stint before he returns to at least High-A.

No real surprises in the “Missing/XST” crew: Dickey is the biggest profile name here but it seems to me he was injured last  year so its hard to pass judgement on his stats anywhere.  Borne‘s numbers were basically identical to the likes of Hearn and Guilbeau’s; he missed out in the 2016 competition.  Gunter might make sense as a mid-season promotion to cover for injury.  Ramos was hurt most of the year last  year.

In the “release candidate” section, I was clearly wrong about Estevez.  DWilliams and Boghosian have already indeed been released.  And both Mooney/Pirro missed out on the full-season roster and are in XST limbo.


Let the games begin!  Are there surprises for you guys in these rosters?

8 Responses to 'Nats Major & Minor League Pitching Staffs vs last fall’s Predictions 2016 Version'

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  1. MLB: I’ve been pro-Roark, but he was shaky on Thursday. We’ll see. Also still some shakiness in the bullpen. I hope Gott can pull it together in AAA. In the one spring game I saw him on TV, he had incredible movement on all his pitches but was having trouble locating them.

    AAA: The only mild surprise is that they didn’t push Giolito on to Syracuse. Voth makes the step up, though. He and Cole are the real “prospects” still remaining among the starters. Some of the relievers may have more of a chance of getting called up than the starters.

    AA: Giolito returns, which makes some sense as he didn’t have a long run at AA, plus it’s more his level of “prospect” competition. What’s surprising, particularly if they hope to have him available to the big club at the end of the year, is that he didn’t start in XST. It will be interesting to see how they manage him. I wrote more about that on Luke’s site so won’t repeat myself.

    Luke also expressed some surprise of Austen Williams being sent to Harrisburg. I’m not that surprised. He had a strong half-season at Potomac, and it’s time to find out if he can step up.

    The much bigger story here for the future of the Nats, though, is whether Lopez can make it as a starter.

    A+: I’m a little surprised that Fedde got bumped up after a shaky half-season at A-, but it’s time to find out what we’ve got. Don’t expect miracles, as Giolito and Lopez didn’t exactly dominate the Carolina League last year, either. Valdez is the other interesting starter here, repeating Potomac and likely to be the first one promoted if he does well. I assume that Glover’s promotion means that he’s staying as a closer and won’t be tried as a starter, as Byron Kerr had hinted.

    A-: My guy Andrew Lee remains as a starter and in fact started the opener last night (no runs allowed over five). He could be the one on the fastest promotion track here. Hearn could have the most overall talent, but he’s said to be pretty raw. I agree that I thought Bach would move up to Potomac, and that it’s head-scratching that Borne got left behind with very similar stats to the other lefties. I’m still hoping that Sandman Jr. will get another look as a starter.


    8 Apr 16 at 8:45 am

  2. Roark: SSS from yesterday, and with the caveat of the circumstances, but 4 innings and 12 (!) baserunners is not the way to keep your slot. Will we be seeing Giolito by the end of the month??

    Giolito: I look at Strasburg’s AA versus AAA stats; he had far better numbers in AAA. And I think its because of the nature of the leagues these days. AAA is where you stash 4th outfielders, career minor leaguers who top out as 4-A guys and backup infielders. AA is where you have your top-end prospects. I wasn’t shocked to see Strasburg have more challenges in AA than in AAA and i’d bet Giolito would be the same way because of his high end stuff.

    Good observations though KW. Well said for Fedde, Lopez, Lee.

    Todd Boss

    8 Apr 16 at 9:13 am

  3. I think Roark and Ross represent big questions for the season. it doesn’t think that they’ll underperform necessarily, just that we think of them as represented by the ceilings (Roark – 2014) and (Ross – first half of last year), and there are big questions whether that is their true talent level or a SSS blip. My personal belief is that Roark is a 5, last call that a FIP slightly better than 4, and that Ross is better than that, but probably not more than a 3 when all is said and done. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll pitch to those levels this season, that is still open.

    But I think Roark needs regular work before we can properly judge him, because he really is a command guy that relies on weak contact and called strikes. So let’s say between 5-10 starts on regular rest before a credible evaluation. Ross, I am hoping , becomes a Maddux disciple since I think his stuff and athleticism are very good. There is some question in my mind whether he has a put away pitch, and that’s why I limit him to a 3 until he shows it. But I think one of these guys is going to struggle and lose their spot.

    As for Giolito, I don’t think the Nats see much difference between AA and AAA in terms of quality and certainly promotions to the big club, and probably opted for the slightly warmer weather. I agree with KW that XST was my first guess, but they could easily play with his rest between innings etc to stretch him out.


    8 Apr 16 at 9:30 am

  4. More often than not, Giolito started about once a week last season, not every five days. The Nats may continue with a similar schedule to start 2016. In the three MiLB games last night, the Nat starters only worked five innings apiece, so no one is going to be pushed, the treasured prize included.

    Let’s say Giolito goes 5 innings x four starts in April for 20 innings. Ramp up to 30 innings apiece in May and June. That would be 80 innings in the can by July 1, leaving him only 60-70 of the presumed 140-150 for the rest of the summer. And that’s with a light workload for a starter. I just don’t see how the math works for him to have much left for September, and certainly not for October.

    All of this leads me to believe that the Nats are more interested in continuing Giolito’s steady development as a pitcher than “saving” him for a late-season run. Either that, or they are trying get him ready to be available for a call-up sooner rather than later if Roark or Ross can’t cut it.

    Roark looked like he finally settled down in the last inning he worked last night, but by that time he was around 100 pitches and had to come out.


    8 Apr 16 at 10:39 am

  5. Roark and Ross: while i maintain that Roark can achieve his 2014 form … i agree as well that he’s ceiling as a very good 4. But I have higher hopes for Ross. I think he can peak as a #2 with his stuff. Its telling that Dusty dumped Gio to the 5th starter spot behind both Ross and Roark.

    Todd Boss

    8 Apr 16 at 11:03 am

  6. I was at the game yesterday, and largely give Roark a pass. While he gave up a pile of hits, he didn’t give up a lot of hard contact at all – he just got victimized by the BABIP Gods. He only gave up a couple of truly well struck hits (one of them the first inning single by Ozuna, on which Werth made one heck of a play to hold Ozuna to a single – not that anyone noticed). Roark is a “pitch to contact” guy, a K/9 of between 5 and 6 type. Sometimes those baseballs are going to find holes. It happens.

    TBH I am more concerned about the three walks, but it seemed from Section 108 that Barksdale was having a bad night behind the plate. That was confirmed by looking at pitch f/x charts – he really hosed Roark a handful of times. So for me Roark gets a mulligan. And a watchful eye, of course.

    John C.

    8 Apr 16 at 1:47 pm

  7. On TV the ump was very tight. Lots of complaining. Which made his punchout at the end of the game even more egregious.

    I tend to agree with you overall though. Rough 1st inning … then an hour and a half. That’s a tough one. Was it a mistake to bring back your starter like that? Miami didn’t. maybe that was on Baker.

    Todd Boss

    8 Apr 16 at 4:54 pm

  8. Teams that hit 1-13 with runners in scoring position dont deserve to win.

    Mark L

    8 Apr 16 at 11:12 pm

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