Nationals Arm Race

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

Minor League Full Season Staff Review 2017 – Syracuse


Will Cole be getting yet another AAA opening day start? Photo AP

Will Cole be getting yet another AAA opening day start? Photo AP

I slacked on minor league pitching analysis this off-season.  But i’m as excited as ever to see the four full-season affiliate rosters announced ahead of the beginning of the minor league season this weekend.  And i’m ready for another season of tracking minor league arms (kind of the bread and butter of this blog).

So lets take a look at the four staffs, guess the roles, and talk about the changes of the staffs from the end of last year til now.  I’ll do these in four posts to break them out and get more content/discussion.  First up: Syracuse.

Quick links for rosters for each full season affiliate:

And don’t forget the invaluable work of SpringfieldFan maintaining the Nats Big Board, now in its 12 season!

Note: in the below list, “missing” means that the player was on a 2016 roster, is still listed as active but is not found anywhere on a 2017 full-season roster as expected.  Most are still sitting in Extended Spring Training (abbreviated XST throughout) with the intent of getting assigned as injuries or releases occur, but some may be release candidates.   Other abbreviations I use often: MLFA == Minor League Free Agent, OOO = Out of the Organization.

AAA/Syracuse 2017:

  • starters: Cole, Voth, THill, Turner, JRoss
  • spot starts/swingman:
  • bullpen: Adams, Gott, Grace*, Martin, Albers, Antolin, Broadway, Cotts,
  • dl/restricted: Swynenberg (still restricted), Barrett, Collins*, Harper*, McGowin
  • cut/released/FAs from 2016: Laffey*, Espino, Giolito (trade), RLopez (trade), EDavis, De Fratus, Arroyo, Harmening
  • missing from 2016: none


As often happens with AAA squads, this group of players is about half home-grown (I count 8 drafted players out of the 17 on the roster) and half MLFA or acquired depth.  And this group is missing more than a few names that we know will eventually be here and play major roles; Jeremy Guthrie probably slides into the rotation spot that Joe Ross is temporarily holding.  But XST also currently holds players like John Lannan and Josh Outman, both of whom were MLFA signings this past off-season with the intent of providing AAA depth.

And as you often see in AAA, there’s huge turnover from last year.  Eight guys on the AAA rosters at the end of last year are out of the organization now, 6 by free agency and two by the much discussed Adam Eaton trade.   I was kind of bummed to see Paolo Espino go in particular, but I like the potential of former major leaguers like Jacob Turner and the aforementioned Guthrie (who looked pretty good in spring training, for what that’s worth).

Rotation guess: not too hard to squint and see this rotation go A.J. Cole, Austin Voth and Taylor Hill at the top.  After that i’m assuming it goes Turner-Guthrie (after Ross gets called back up).  Perhaps we’ll also see 2017 MLFA Kyle McGowin after he returns from whatever ailment has him on the D/L.

Reliever thoughts: I was happy to see the team re-sign Aaron Barrett; he may not ever contribute again but it was a good gesture to bring him back into the fold.  Interested to see what Lannan can provide.  The four relievers on the 40-man roster all seem to be on thin-ice with the org; are we expecting anything of value from any of Adams, Gott, Grace or Martin any more?  I don’t mean to sound like a debbie downer, but at this point those four guys are my first four to get cut if space is needed.  Its kind of amazing to me that this team has so little reliever depth at the upper level of the minors given the ridiculous amount of pitching they’ve drafted in the past few  years.

Interestingly, Matt Swynenberg remains on the AAA restricted list, where he’s been since he retired on 5/1/15.  I’m not sure why at this point the team doesn’t just release him, if only to clean up the official roster on the web page.  🙂

Who am I focusing on: Voth, Turner, Adams and Gott to see if they’ve got any future value, Guthrie, Lannan when they get there, McGowin when he gets off of the D/L.


22 Responses to 'Minor League Full Season Staff Review 2017 – Syracuse'

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  1. Guthrie is in some strange sort of limbo. He hasn’t been added to the 40-man, but he also hasn’t been outrighted. Perhaps his situation as an NRI is governed by an obscure set of rules. I don’t know. Anyway, the scuttlebutt on Nats Talk is that Guthrie is going to start for the big club in Philly on Saturday . . . unless they get a rainout today.

    My guess is that a big part of the finagling with Guthrie was to be able to keep Difo with the big club in case Rendon’s injury proved to be more than it was. I’m not sure what the deal is with Ross, other than that they didn’t want to cut a pitcher, Ross had an option, and they could push back the fifth starter spot and hope for a rainout. Ross still won’t burn the option if they call him up before 20 days. And frankly, considering his injury history, I don’t mind him getting some extra rest on the front end of the season. I just hope he isn’t being stashed because of concerns over whether he’s fully recovered.

    I don’t think Guthrie will ever pitch in Syracuse. I think he’ll either stay on the big-league roster or ask for his release. I assume that the Nats will reduce the bench to five, but if they keep Guthrie, at some point they’re going to have to make a decision among Romero (DFA, probably would lose him), Glover (options left), or Perez (would be cut but owed $4M).

    Ha — I just noticed on the Nats’ 40-man page that they have Romero listed as 215 lbs. I’ll definitely take the over on that one. He would have squished Deitrich like the insect that he is.


    6 Apr 17 at 1:09 pm

  2. Does it matter if Ross burns an option? Do you take stock in those stories about how the Nats are “sending him a message?” I can’t remember the reporter but the implication was that the Nats thought Ross was “soft” with his injury last year. Kinda reminds me of the souring the org seems to have had with Giolito. Concerning to me; I’d much rather have Ross as 5th starter than Guthrie; its night and day with potential performance.

    If the team really wants to keep guthrie, I see them “injuring” Oliver Perez and sticking him on the D/L.

    Todd Boss

    6 Apr 17 at 2:37 pm

  3. “Its kind of amazing to me that this team has so little reliever depth at the upper level of the minors given the ridiculous amount of pitching they’ve drafted in the past few years.”

    Heh–that sort of ties in with the point I’ve been making since last year about how frivolous Rizzo has been in trading away and even releasing relievers, especially those who are lefthanded. That said, I still have hope for Gott, who is only 24 and is at least a hard thrower. Adams was awful in ST, and Grace and Martin are strictly AAAA.

    No doubt that the one thing that could sink this team this year is a rash of pitching injuries. Look at how helpless the Marlins have been this series without a LH reliever. Well, let Romero keep pitching as he always, Perez like he did much of last year and have and Solis succumb to another in his long series of injuries and the Nats will more or less be in the same boat.

    Karl Kolchak

    6 Apr 17 at 4:17 pm

  4. I like the guys young guys they have now as potential pen pieces: Gott, Cordero, Adams and Cole. No one has established themselves yet, but if even a turns into a Stammen type, that’s good value. But no doubt that Rizzo has traded several quality pitching prospects. Not just the big three for Eaton, but also Hearn, Avila and even Rivero. There has been a talent drain that needs replacing.

    I’m not sure how good Ross is, that’s my concern. But after the way the Nats protect their pitchers, I highly doubt they sent him a message about being soft. I think it’s roster and innings management.


    6 Apr 17 at 4:44 pm

  5. Lots of lefties in the system … just not anywhere close. AAA has Cotts, Grace (and Collins, Harper on D/L). AA has Lara and Lee though Lee is hurt and Lara is a MLFA signing. High-A is where a lot of the aforementioned “ridiculous amount of drafted depth” is currently sitting … 5 of the 13 arms on the active roster are lefties and some of them definitely could be bullpen options. But that’s a ways away…

    Todd Boss

    6 Apr 17 at 4:48 pm

  6. How good is Ross? I think he’s pretty good. 181 major league innings to a tune of a 116 ERA+ in his age 22-23 years. I mean heck, he’s younger than practically everyone on our AAA, AA rosters right now, and he’s younger than a good chunk of the POTOMAC roster. So that’s some context. They’re in the bus leagues; Ross has two major league seasons of experience.

    So yeah i hope its just slowing him down after an arm injury…

    Todd Boss

    6 Apr 17 at 5:00 pm

  7. I’m not worried about Ross burning an option, and I don’t think he’s being sent a message. In addition to Ross still trying to get back to full strength, he only threw 105 innings last year. Not sure how they’re going to work the calculations to get him to the end of the season, but the early rest is probably part of it.

    Guthrie was the clear “winner” among the long men candidates, but his career stats don’t offer a great deal of confidence. Who would be “next up,” particularly if Ross isn’t good for a full season of innings? My top three would be Turner, Fedde (at AA), and Voth. I’ve never understood why Voth hasn’t gotten a longer look, but by any measure, he now should be ahead of Cole in the pecking order. I like Turner’s prospects if the Nats can figure out a few tweaks that other teams haven’t. He’s only 25 (turning 26 next month) and was consistently throwing in the mid-90s in the TV game I saw him from the spring.

    I don’t see Cole as a major-league option right now. He hasn’t done well in his call-ups and got rocked in the spring. It’s starting to look like the Nats held onto him too long and had too high an opinion of him. I guess they will keep him as a starter for now; I don’t know that he has the heat or quality secondary pitch to be an MLB reliever.

    Among the others, don’t sleep on Albers, who didn’t give up a run in the spring. The Nats gave him a lot of spring innings and a long look. He’s been up and down but has some very good seasons in his past.

    I still consider Gott a cut above Martin and Grace, but he’s had difficultly staying healthy. Collins is a bit of a lottery ticket. Between Cotts and midseason comeback from Collins, the hope would be that they’ve got some lefty insurance this year.


    6 Apr 17 at 7:48 pm

  8. OK, so it was an interminable game on a cool, rainy April evening, so I guess we shouldn’t come down too hard on the Nats for not finishing the deal. But jeez, that was an ugly last few innings to a game the Nats really should have won. Except for Glover, the rest of the bullpen faltered, not in major ways, but just enough to allow the Marlins to keep scoring. But it was a team failure, with the Nats 1 for 9 with RISP. Against the Fish, you’ve GOT to take advantage of their weak starting pitching to counteract their good offense. I’m sorry, but one run off a stiff like Koehler just isn’t enough.

    Sigh. I guess we really weren’t going to go 162-0. You just hate to see them blow multiple leads, often caused by the unpardonable sin of walking the leadoff batter in an inning.

    Also, kudos to the fans who stayed. I’m sure that was quite a slog.


    7 Apr 17 at 8:11 am

  9. Is it too early to say positive things about Zim for fear of jinxing him? But it’s not a jinx to say that Eaton sure is looking good, right?


    7 Apr 17 at 8:12 am

  10. […] We’re looking at the four full-season staffs, guessing the roles, and talk about the changes of the staffs from the end of last year til now.  Next up: Harrisburg.  See here for Syracuse review. […]

  11. I’ve put Zimmerman on my fantasy watch list! I tell you, if he produces anywhere close to his non-injury levels, this team’s offense could be pretty impressive.

    Todd Boss

    7 Apr 17 at 9:09 am

  12. Anyone else notice that Gio was mentally tough last night, shaking off some bad fielding and some tough borderline calls to pitch six shutout innings? No? I didn’t think so. His changeup was really good.

    But the way Gio is regarded generally, I expect more fans will remember that he fell behind Bour 3-0 after the Turner misplay (scored a hit) but won’t remember that Gio then battled back to 3-2 and then got a double play.

    John C.

    7 Apr 17 at 9:10 am

  13. And I haven’t seen any story that indicates that the Nationals were “sending a message” to Ross. Where did you see that, Todd?

    There are so many reasons for a paper transfer to AAA here (managing Ross’s innings, being able to defer a decision on Guthrie, etc.) that it seems silly to assume some sort of passive-aggressive “message” instead.

    John C.

    7 Apr 17 at 9:13 am

  14. Joe Ross “sending a message” story: I read it somewhere … and now cannot find it. My bad. I don’t like to claim it exists because ‘I read it somewhere’ if I can’t find the link. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, not enough to save the link. i want to say it was in something Chelsea Janes wrote … but she is so profligate on twitter I can’t find anything of use.

    Generally speaking though on Ross: while I agree with the benefit of limiting his innings based on last season’s injury …. the team is now going out of its way in a big way to get a roster spot to a guy who is now 37, didn’t pitch in the majors last year and who in 2015 posted a 5.95 ERA and gave up 29 homers in 30 appearances. Uh, yeah its nice to have a long-man who can absorb innings, but not at the expense of a guy who has posted a 116 ERA+ over the last two years. I don’t agree with the move at all. Ross should be making the saturday start. If he’s still hurt/still not recovered from last year’s injury, then D/L him.

    Todd Boss

    7 Apr 17 at 10:21 am

  15. Oh … and if your “pro Guthrie” argument is “well he looked great this spring,” then I hope you’re not also one of those who constantly intones that “spring training stats don’t matter” when people mention that so-and-so looked great. Because that’d be pretty hypocritical. But clearly Guthrie “made the team” based on his spring performance … so there’s definitely a dichotomy of thought here on the matter.

    Todd Boss

    7 Apr 17 at 10:22 am

  16. Gio had a great spring and as John noted, looked pretty confident last night. What’s different? Hard to say. Is Wieters helping? I have a hard time seeing Ramos or Lobaton being too firm with the pitchers, but I have no problem seeing that from Wieters at all. Maybe Dusty and Maddux have built up Gio’s confidence. Maybe still being with the team after all the trade rumors helped. Who knows.

    Let’s call Gio the Zim of the pitching staff. If he gets back to his old self, the rotation will be pretty impressive. He doesn’t even have to make it all the way back to 2012 Gio, just the Gio whose ERA was consistently around 3.50, not the 4.50 of last year, when he only averaged five and half innings a start.


    7 Apr 17 at 10:44 am

  17. One additional demi-rant from the Thursday game before letting go. I’ve been screaming for years that T-Mo has reverse splits, in that he hits righties 30 or 40 points better than he does lefties. The Nats never used him that way when they had him, despite what the stats said. And of course they took out a lefty and put in a righty to face him last night. Fail.


    7 Apr 17 at 10:47 am

  18. Todd, your argument on Ross Guthrie doesn’t really hang together. Once you buy off on deferring Ross’s season to preserve his innings a bit, then someone has to make that start that isn’t Ross. So the choice isn’t really Ross/Guthrie … it’s Guthrie/Cole-Voth-Fedde-etc.

    John C.

    7 Apr 17 at 12:10 pm

  19. JohnC: *I* wasn’t making that argument for Ross. Others have made it. I want him making his regular start and think it was kind of ridiculous to send him to AAA so they could hand a spot start to Guthrie.

    *IF* Ross is legitimately hurt or still “not ready” to start, then yeah I’d be advising for Voth, Cole or Fedde, certainly not Guthrie. I’m ok if Guthrie enters a 7-1 game and soaks up 3 innings, not taking a start in lieu of a regular rotation mate.

    This, by the way, was why I could “buy” the “sending a message” issue … if I could find it 🙂

    Todd Boss

    7 Apr 17 at 12:44 pm

  20. […] here for Syracuse 2017 review, here for Harrisburg 2017 […]

  21. […] here for Syracuse 2017 review, here for Harrisburg 2017 review, here for Potomac 2017 […]

  22. […] here for Syracuse 2017 review, here for Harrisburg 2017 review, here for Potomac 2017 review, here for Hagerstown 2017 […]

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