Nationals Arm Race

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

Spring Training 2017 NRI Discussion

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Who will be this year's Chris Heisey? Photo via Washington Times

Who will be this year’s Chris Heisey? Photo via Washington Times

Third year running for this post: Here’s a link to 2016’s version and a link to 2015’s post.

Every year the team invites a bunch of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) to Spring Training, and every year we wonder if any of these guys have a chance to make the team.  This post discusses the NRIs and their chances.  Through out the winter some NRIs were announced with signings; on 2/11/17 the full list of NRIs was announced.

This is no throw-away post: here’s what has happened to Washington Nationals NRIs the last two spring trainings:

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRis total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

So that’s six NRIs from 2016 that eventually played for the Nats or got added to the 40-man roster, and six from the year .  So odds are a handful of these players will eventually have a major league impact for this team.  Lets take a look at 2017’s NRI roster.  From the mlb.com NRI roster, lets break them down by position.


Starters

  • RHP Jacob Turner: once upon a time he was halfway decent for an NL East team (Miami), but lost his effectiveness somewhere in the 2014 timeframe and hasn’t gotten it back.  Seems like AAA rotation filler to me.
  • RHP Vance Worley: an interesting minor league signing; why couldn’t he get a 40-man contract after the season he just had in Baltimore?  Could be a sneaky effective pickup.
  • RHP Jeremy Guthrie: 272  career starts but none in the majors since getting dumped from Kansas City’s 2015 rotation.  In 2016 he posted an ERA north of 7.00 for Miami and San Diego’s AAA squads.  He’ll be 38.  I’m not sure he’s really any better of a “spare starter” option than what we already have in house.
  • RHP Erick Fedde: his invite clearly indicates to me that the MLB staff wants to get a look at him, figuring that he’s taken over as the next big thing in terms of starting pitcher prospects.  With all due respect to A.J. Cole and Austin Voth, its really Fedde that I’d like to see pitching in the majors if/when we have a month long starter injury later this summer.
  • RHP Taylor Hill; may be up to see if he’s got anything left in the tank, or perhaps to eat some split squad innings?  Once you’re off the 40-man it seems pretty hard to get back, and that’s the dilemna that Hill faces.
  • RHP Kyle McGowin, recently acquired in the Danny Espinosa deal.  I’m guessing the team wants to see what they have.  McGowin’s 2016 numbers were awful … but pitching in the PCL is generally awful, so its hard to scout the stat line here.

FWIW, a couple of these guys who I’ve called “starters” (Turner and Worley) may actually still be starters, but they’re close enough to starting that the team could look at them as such. I could see Worley getting the last spot in the MLB rotation and acting as a swing man/6th starter, not unlike what we used Yusmeiro Petit for last year.  The minor league invites mean that the whole AAA rotation will be in camp.  Unless the team suffers 3 SP injuries in camp, nobody here is making the 25-man on 4/1.

Right Handed Relievers

  • RHP Matt Albers; Great in 2015, awful in 2016.  Wrong side of 30, losing his swing and miss stuff.  Seems like he’s just in camp to rebuild value and likely opts out if he doesn’t make the team.
  • RHP Mike Broadway: career journeyman, was formerly with Nats in 2013 time-frame.  Little MLB experience, seems like he’s AAA insurance.
  • RHP Joe Nathan: 377 career saves, but he’s 42, was last effective as a 38yr old in 2013, and this seems like perhaps an audition for him to take a role on a coaching staff here.
  • RHP Dustin Antolin: longtime Toronto farm hand who spent 3 straight years in their AA team and was a part-time closer for their AAA team last year with good results; seems like a safe bet to close in AAA and serve as middle relief insurance.
  • RHP Derek Eitel; similar to Antolin; long time farm hand who finished a ton of games in AAA for San Diego last year.  Averaged a K/inning but had a ton of walks.
  • RHP Wander Suero: a long-serving middle relief option for the team, Suero has grown up in the system.  He’s entering his 8th pro season and I’m guessing the team wants to see if he’s a MLB middle relief option and/or an option to eventually add to the 40-man roster ahead of his pending MLFA deadline.

Left handed Relievers

  • LHP Tim Collins:  hasn’t pitched in 2 years thanks to a failed TJ surgery that cost him a second season, but was pretty effective for Kansas City to that point.  I think he has to think he’s heading to AAA to prove to teams that he’s ok.
  • LHP Braulio Lara: seems like a lottery ticket based on performances from a few years past; he got shelled in Korea, shelled in AAA recently.
  • LHP Neal Cotts: long time reliever who has had some bouts of success over the years, but who didn’t make it out of AAA last year.  Can’t see him supplanting the 40-man guys ahead of him on the Loogy pecking order.
  • LHP Nick Lee, who like Hill before him was on the 40-man and then passed through waivers to get removed from it.  He was good enough to protect in 2015 (putting up good numbers in a closing role for AA) but really struggled with his control in 2016 (42 walks in 50 innings).  Perhaps a mechanical tweak can put him back on the radar to being an effective reliever.

Tangent: The recent addition of optionless Enny Romero may complicate a 25-man path for these guys.  Or perhaps not; the arm they gave up (Jeffrey Rosa) was so insignificant that I had to look him up because I forgot who he was.  In case you were wondering, Rosa was the “ace” of this year’s GCL team, getting 11 starts and posting a 4.91 ERA.  As a 21 year old.  So that means he was a 19-yr old IFA signing from a land where most players of note sign at 16 and only the rare cases make it to 18 and still have a minor league impact.  So perhaps the team isn’t entirely wedded to Romero making the roster/challenging his no-options status.  That trade was more about Tampa shedding a 40-man spot and getting something (anything) in return.

Discussion:  So, no real “closers” in here, even if you somehow think Nathan can still produce (I don’t).  I think a couple of these guys will exercise opt-outs and the rest will sign up in AAA.  I can’t see any of them seriously challenging any of the existing 40-man arms for a spot.  The one exception could be Collins for me; he was good, had bad luck with his injury and could very well come back and be effective; is he a better Loogy option than our current set of lefties (Perez, Solis, Romero and Grace)?  I doubt it.  I like the call-up of Suero and Lee; i think its a good idea for the team to see what they have here.

Catchers:

  • Jhonatan Solano, who probably reprises his role as AAA backup for Syracause and is in camp mostly to help with all the warm-up duties.

Infielders:

  • Emmanuel Burriss: we are quite familiar with Burriss, who is a Washington DC native and was with the org two years ago.  I see little chance of him breaking with the team but he’ll do exactly what he did for us in 2015: toil in Syracuse, wait for an injury in the infield and bide his time until he can get some MLB at-bats.  In 2015 he was up by June 26th; what are the odds that the Nats infield holds up without injury again in 2017?
  • Grant Green; primarily a 2B, but can play like a utility guy around the field.  He’s a former 1st round pick and a highly regarded prospect; don’t see much of a position for him though.  Will he stick around if he doesn’t make the team?
  • Corban Joseph: owns a grand total of 7 MLB at-bats, and that was in 2013.  He has toiled in the minors for the last four full seasons, bouncing around organizations.  He plays 1B and 2B and seems like the backup to the backup for Daniel Murphy.  In other words, if Joseph is playing, we’ve really suffered some serious injuries.
  • Neftali Soto: the 2016 MLFA signing had such a solid year for the organization that they re-signed him and gave him the NRI invite this year.  I suppose he’s Ryan Zimmerman insurance … but like Snyder is a RH hitter who is more or less limited to 1B.  Hard to see a pathway for him.
  • Drew Ward: this NRI seems a bit premature; he was in A-ball a year ago this time.  But Ward also faces Rule-5 protection this coming off-season and is one of the few remaining hopes of the 2013 draft class of producing much in the way of MLB talent for the home team.  He could be a replacement for an Anthony Rendon injury at some point too.

Its hard to see any openings here, especially given the Stephen Drew re-signing.  Are any of these guys beating out Wilmer Difo?  Doubt it.

Outfielders

  • Brandon Snyder: another local product (Westfield HS in Chantilly) and another 1st round pick who has sputtered out.  He has some pop, but he bats right handed … and the RH bench spot is already committed (along with $1.4M) to Chris Heisey.  Snyder seems like AAA “spare parts” insurance for 2017.
  • Andrew Stevenson: I know he was a high draft pick, but based on what I saw of him in college i’m still kind of shocked he’s advanced so quickly.  He joins several other CF-capable players in camp and signals to me at least that the team clearly thinks he’s got a role going forward.

Note that there’s really nobody invited to compete with the likes of Michael Taylor/Brian Goodwin for 5th outfielder spot.  Yes Stevenson is a CF … does anyone think he’s MLB ready?  Snyder seems to be competition with Clint Robinson/Matt Skole/Chris Heisey for bench bat/corner spots.  He had good numbers in small sample sizes for Atlanta last  year; maybe he’s an option.  Problem is that he bats righty and the team already guaranteed money to Heisey, so there’s no direct competition for Robinson/Skole as a “corner lefty bat with some pop.”


 

Conclusion/predictions: I predict no NRIs make the team out of spring training right now.  But I could see several of these guys head to AAA and get call-ups in the case of a 60-day D/L trip.  And a number of the minor league invite guys will feature eventually.

 

25 Responses to 'Spring Training 2017 NRI Discussion'

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  1. I bet Worley makes it. Some of the other pen arms are intriguing but I don’t see them making it right away.

    Don’t see anyone else. But I’d note that some teams, LAD, have some interesting guys that look to be caught in a numbers game and could be useful here. Scott Vsn Slyke and Trace Thompson are two examples.

    Wally

    12 Feb 17 at 9:40 am

  2. The Dodgers 6-10 starters (Alex Wood, Brandon McCarthy, Brandon Morrow, Hyung-jin Ryu, Ross Stripling) if all healthy (huge big “if” to be fair) is probably better than at least a few other teams planned rotations. I’m sure a trade could be arranged :-)

    Todd Boss

    12 Feb 17 at 10:43 am

  3. Belisle was a late add as an NRI in 2016 (see below link).

    http://m.nationals.mlb.com/roster/transactions/2016/02

    James

    12 Feb 17 at 3:13 pm

  4. Does anyone think Taylor is “major league ready,” either? Sorry, couldn’t resist . . .

    I made a similar point about Romero at Nats Prospects: they gave up virtually nothing to get him or Cordero, so it would be no great crime if they go the way of the DFA. They’re hard-throwing lottery tickets.

    I wouldn’t bet anything on it, but Worley is my favorite entering camp to win the long-man spot. Cole really wasn’t that good at AAA (or MLB) last year, and they’d probably prefer to keep him stretched out at AAA anyway.

    The last time Nathan was any good, his pitching coach was . . . Mike Maddux. Just pointing that out. Do I think he’s got much left? No. Is it terrific having him around for Treinen, Glover, and Solis? You bet.

    Jacob Turner is 26, on his first elbow, and has been in the majors (with some detours) since 2011. The Nats will have some good background on him from Dan Jennings. He’s got a much higher-upside profile than your typical reclamation project.

    Then there’s the guy on his third elbow, Tim Collins. It’s hard to bank on anything there, but he’d be quite an addition if he can get his Royals mojo back.

    Among the “prospect” invitees, I’m sure the team is eager to get a closer look at Fedde and Stevenson. With all the pitching included in the Eaton deal, the Nats bet big that Fedde will turn out the best of the bunch. We’ll see. Stevenson struggled after his (rapid) promotion to AA last year but then put on an Eaton-like show in AZ. Team sprints with him and Bautista in camp along with Trea and Eaton, not to mention Goodwin and Taylor, could be a lot of fun. Stevenson won’t break camp with the big club; the question right now is whether he can put himself into the conversation for the future. (Would there be a place for him in the same lineup with Turner and Eaton? He’s the same type of player.)

    KW

    12 Feb 17 at 7:44 pm

  5. Belisle; good call. I wondered how I missed him in the post from last year and sure enough he was signed like 2 days after the WP report that spurred my post. I published my 2016 NRI analysis before we signed belisle. I’ll edit the “summary” section though for posterity since indeed he made the team (and was good for us) as an NRI.

    Todd Boss

    12 Feb 17 at 7:47 pm

  6. Here’s a good piece on Robertson’s down year last season, and what it may or may not mean:

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/david-robertson-and-the-dangers-of-reliever-volatility/

    The Nats apparently were close to getting him last week, but the talks have hit a “stalemate.” Robertson is still owed 2/$25M. I fear that the Nats haven’t been spending on the bench because they’ve been holding back cash for that closer they allegedly need. Sigh.

    KW

    13 Feb 17 at 8:34 am

  7. Michael Taylor now has 791 career plate appearances. He has struck out in 252 of them, good for a 31.8% clip. One of the big knocks on Mark Trumbo’s FA candidacy was his high strike out rate … he struck out 170 times last year in 667 PAs, which was “only” 25%. Oh, he also hit 47 homers and slugged .553. Of course Taylor provides several other “tools” that Trumbo does not (speed, outfield defense) but in the end …. teams put up with a ton of Ks if you hit a ton of homers to off-set them. And Taylor does not. He definitely has that kind of power (in 2015 Taylor hit the 5th longest homer of the year, blasting a ball 479 feet at Coors. He just doesn’t harness it enough. Is that good enough? His fielding marks seem to be ok (he shows positive UZR/150 in center but has negative DRS durign the same timeframe); enough to be our primary OF backup?

    I’m optimistic on Turner’s capabilities for sure; i think he’ll make an excellent AAA insurance starter.

    Agree with assessment of Worley; he could be the 7th man in that pen. I mean really, if you look at the bullpen right now you only see 5 locks: Kelley, Treinen, Glover, Solis*, Perez*. That means there’s 2 spots up for grabs. One should be a decent middle relief option: Romero, Adams, Gott, Martin, Cordero candidates. One should have some longer inning stints in him, and for that Worley might be a better option than Cole.

    Stevenson: where does he fit in? Good question. Maybe he doesn’t really fit in until the team has parted ways with both Harper and Werth. At that point the team could go Robles in LF, Stevenson in CF, Eaton in RF and have one of the best defensive outfields in the game. Where does Stevenson bat? Well, if Turner and Eaton are 1-2 for the next 4 seasons, maybe you do the pitcher 8th/Stevenson 9th thing and get Stevenson as a second leadoff hitter?

    Todd Boss

    13 Feb 17 at 8:41 am

  8. Todd Boss

    13 Feb 17 at 10:48 am

  9. It sounds terrible to put it this way, but I’ve pretty much given up hope on Taylor as a decently contributing member of the Nats. He has Danny Disease — both the intoxicating talent and debilitating fatal flaw — and the only known cure is relocation. The Nats (thankfully) have been moving away from the high-K guys the last couple of years and investing more in contact, so I hope they’re done making an exception for Taylor. His major-league sample has moved beyond SSS, and it is what it is.

    As for Stevenson, how many speed/gap guys can you have in one lineup? Turner and Eaton would seem be be set for the next five seasons. Stevenson plays a similar game, but right now with less power. Robles has a bit more pop, but not much more to this point. If the Nats can’t re-sign Harper, maybe they should consider moving the fences out and just playing for the triples!

    It is time to start thinking about who is up next for LF, though (or CF if Turner moves to LF). I still think Goodwin has an outside chance to be an everyday player for the Nats, more so than Taylor, but still, as things stand right now, do we have great faith that Goodwin/Taylor/Stevenson could step into the lineup next year for a team undoubtedly going big with Harper and Murphy at the end of their contracts? I don’t.

    KW

    13 Feb 17 at 12:48 pm

  10. Well, a couple of thoughts on KW’s post.

    I also lost confidence in MAT, and do not see him as a big league regular. But I would note that players with his profile that make it – above average age raw tools but limited game instincts – often take later to put it all together. He has a Carlos Gomez feel to him. But that, by no means, is a guarantee that he WILL make it. I’m taking the under.

    As for how many speed/gap power guys you can have in the lineup, I’d say don’t worry if they are good players. If a guy can generate 3 WAR, don’t worry how he does it, just play him.

    Wally

    13 Feb 17 at 1:38 pm

  11. If Stevenson can post a .350-.375 OBP and keep his average up, he’ll play somewhere. The nats had a team OBP of .325 last year, putting them 10th in the league. And that’s with an awful lot of ABs going to Espinosa, Revere, Taylor. A full season of Turner replacing Espinosa drastically changes the landscape of the Nats run production, and then replacing Revere with Eaton does more of the same.

    Todd Boss

    13 Feb 17 at 2:13 pm

  12. Err, meant to say “if EATON moves to LF” after this year. Of course Turner isn’t moving to LF.

    Stevenson was .359 OBP in 300 PAs at Potomac, then slipped to only .302 at Harrisburg. He then exploded to .417 in AZ. Which one is he? It’s hard to say. His first half at Harrisburg this year will tell a lot about how much and how soon the Nats might be able to count on him. If he’s seriously in the conversation as a Werth “replacement,” he needs an extended trial in the majors at the end of this year.

    I’m not completely sold on Stevenson, particularly as an everyday major-leaguer. When drafted, I saw some comparisons that said his ceiling was Revere. I give him credit for progressing rapidly through the system, though, and for really turning up his game in AZ after a long season. We’ll see. He’s supposed to be above average defensively, at least in tracking balls, but not with a great arm.

    KW

    13 Feb 17 at 2:38 pm

  13. Hey hey, Adam Lind to the Nats. There’s that bench upgrade I’ve been lobbying for all offseason. I’ll give Wally credit, though — Lind was his guy. CRob will have to earn his stripes . . . again.

    Meanwhile, the bench just tilted to the left, leaving me more worried that Taylor just got a leg up on Goodwin.

    KW

    13 Feb 17 at 2:41 pm

  14. Good signing at this stage. Others were better, like Moss, but this is probably well below that price tag. And I think that MAT with the inside track is probably a good call. I was thinking that pagan made sense but wasn’t remembering Drew.

    I think they are done except for a reliever (maybe). And really don’t want them to pay the price for Robertson. Can’t see adding the salary and wouldn’t want to give the prospects if CWS eat it. .

    Wally

    13 Feb 17 at 3:06 pm

  15. Well, for everyone whining about Clint Robinson … this signing is for you!

    Only problem with Lind: his lefty splits. He’s not good against lefties. His career OPS is 260 points lower against lefties.

    But … i like this move. Its Clint Robinson insurance, its Ryan Zimmerman insurance, and if you really squint maybe its Jayson Werth insurance somehow too (because maybe Zimmerman can stumble around LF in a pinch if Werth gets hurt)

    Todd Boss

    13 Feb 17 at 3:20 pm

  16. Wally you probably touched on the “impasse” the two teams are probably having about Robinson. CWS probably wants serious prospects, the Nats don’t want to take on any more payroll.

    Todd Boss

    13 Feb 17 at 3:21 pm

  17. wonder if Lind is MLB or MLFA signing. Zuckerman says major league signing, so that’s 40/40 on the 40-man and presumabaly bumps Robinson to AAA. Except that Robinson doesn’t have any options …. hmmm.

    Todd Boss

    13 Feb 17 at 3:21 pm

  18. MLBTR says major league deal; there have been some reports that say it includes a team option for 2018.

    If true (and pending the physical) this is bad news for Matt Skole and worse news for the Bat Hoarder. Because the Nats can option Skole to AAA, but they can’t do that with CRob.

    John C.

    13 Feb 17 at 3:24 pm

  19. Yeah … this might be the end of the road for Robinson.

    Todd Boss

    13 Feb 17 at 3:30 pm

  20. Lind hasn’t played OF at all since 2010 and hasn’t played there regularly since ’09.

    It’s actually a little curious to get someone who is essentially 1B-only. I guess they don’t want Murphy sliding back and forth between 2B and 1B, or something. Lind is Zim insurance, but he’s also a bit of a shot across Zim’s bow, as you would think that Dusty is going to want to play Lind a couple of times a week. It was easier to not play CRob, who hasn’t really been an MLB regular.

    So the bench going into the spring looks like:

    Loby/Norris platoon
    Heisey
    Drew
    Lind
    Taylor or Goodwin

    That leaves them very thin on the INF beyond 1B, though. I would say that they may think about keeping Difo over Taylor/Goodwin, but then they’d have no one for CF (except Bryce or Trea, of course).

    KW

    13 Feb 17 at 3:33 pm

  21. KW: can’t disagree with your logic.

    Todd Boss

    13 Feb 17 at 3:36 pm

  22. Hi guys–back from my winter baseball hiatus.

    Robinson probably made it inevitable that he would not be back this coming year by failing to get even one XBH after 7/8 last year in a grand total of 120 PAs. While he did hit .245 during that span, a lumbering singles hitter with no speed and lousy defense has very little value.

    I can’t see either Lind or Zimmerman in the OF if Werth goes down. They essentially have three outfielders who can combine to fill in until the trading deadline, if that were to become necessary. More likely Wally is correct, and that with a relatively inexperienced SS they’d rather have Lind get all the starts at 1B when Zimmerman is unavailable rather than sliding Murphy over.

    The Lind signing likely means very little ST drama as far as the position players go, with Taylor vs Goodwin being the only real question. All eyes are going to be on the bullpen mess.

    Karl Kolchak

    13 Feb 17 at 11:21 pm

  23. Happy Pitchers and Catchers Report Day! There really should be chocolates and balloons involved.

    KW

    14 Feb 17 at 5:01 am

  24. I do like the possibility of having Lind play 2x a week against tough righties. Certainly there’s more than a few of them in the division (Snydergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Teheran, Nola).

    Indeed, happy Pitchers and Catchers reporting day! can’t wait to see pix from sunny florida.

    Todd Boss

    14 Feb 17 at 9:09 am

  25. […] I’m not alone in thinking this, though. Todd Boss has painstakingly analyzed the non-roster invitees and come to a similar conclusion: It doesn’t look good for anyone not already on the 40-man roster. […]

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