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 – Hagerstown


Watson gets his first tase of full-season ball. Photo via

Watson gets his first tase of full-season ball. Photo via

(We got interrupted on this series by last weekend’s baffling pitching roster moves.  We continue today with Hagerstown and tomorrow with XST).

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.  Last up: Hagerstown (I may add a “5th” to talk about the 40 some-odd guys in XST or unassigned right now)

See here for Syracuse 2017 review, here for Harrisburg 2017 review, here for Potomac 2017 review.

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 12th 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.

Low-A/Hagerstown 2017

  • projected starters: Watson*, WDavis, MMills*, CPena, Sharp
  • Actual rotation as it seems: Watson*, Acevedo, WDavis, CPena, Sharp (maybe MMills*)
  • spot starts/swingman: VanVossen, Bourque, Bogucki
  • bullpen: Held, Howard*, Pantoja, Simonds (JMills* recent acquisition)
  • dl/restricted: none
  • cut/released/FAs from 2016: Walby (waived), Avila (traded for Norris)
  • missing from 2016: JMorales, ALee, DeRosier, Howell, Dickey


3/5ths of the end-of-season 2016 Auburn rotation moves up to Hagerstown (it would have been 4/5ths had the team not flipped Dane Dunning over the off-season) for the season: Weston Davis and McKenzie Mills look to continue excellent professional debuts in Low-A.   Sterling Sharp and Carlos Pena (both of whom share names with more famous former pro athletes) are both making the jump straight from Rookie Ball (though Sharp got one end-of-season start for Auburn last year).  They join who I like to call the most under-rated prospect in our system Tyler Watson in what could be a very talented Hagerstown rotation.  Watson doesn’t turn 20 until the end of May yet starts his 3rd pro season and has really yet to be challenged; he has a career 2.14 ERA against mostly older competition and could find easily find himself in high-A before he turns 21.

There’s another 4 guys I list as spot starters who all at least notionally “started” last year in Short-A (i.e., participated in the tandem starting system they use in Auburn).  Competition may still remain for the longer term rotation in Hagerstown.  The rest of the bullpen contains holdovers from last year (Held, VanVossen, Pantoja and Howard).  I’m slightly surprised to see Bourque beating out the slew of guys who at least were on last year’s year end team (the “missing” guys listed above): he struggled badly in Low-A last year.  And its also surprising to see Pantoja here; he dominated low-A and forced a mid-season promotion; what does he have left to prove in Low-A?

Who am I focusing on: Watson of course, but I also like Davis and M.Mills longer term.



13 Responses to 'Minor League Full Season Staff Review 2017 – Hagerstown'

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  1. Hags is the most interesting team this year. Wish it was closer and I’d catch a game. I like the same three as you plus there lineup has a ton of interesting guys too, some with aggressive promotions.


    11 Apr 17 at 1:16 pm

  2. Hagerstown has 14 pitchers on its roster. The shortest of these pitchers are the four among them who top out at 6’3″. Four more are 6’4″, five of them are 6’5″, and Pena is 6’6″, 240. Wow. Are we sure this isn’t an NBA Developmental League team?

    I asked online a few times last year why Watson wasn’t receiving more “prospect” notice. The answer was that he wasn’t breaking 90. Yet his K/9 has been above 9 everywhere he’s pitched. And word toward the end of the season was that he had crept up to around 92 mph. He’s still got plenty of time to add some power to his 6’5″ frame. One also supposes that he’s also had to learn guile earlier than most.

    Watson is also the youngest pitcher on this staff, by a year, over Davis, who is half a year younger than M. Mills. That’s a truckload of very young arms already making it to Hagerstown, with Ramirez and Fuentes possibly to follow later in the year. Some (Wally) have continued to lament to loss of Avila, but these guys are pretty much the ones who made him expendable.

    At the time of the draft last year, I liked the profiles of Bogucki and Hayden Howard, both of whom had super-reliever roles similar to Dane Dunning’s. Both pitched below average at Auburn last year, but the Nats must have seen something to push them on up the ladder.

    Among the “Missing,” Andrew Lee, one of my favorites, succumbed to the dreaded second TJ last June, so he’s got a long road back.


    11 Apr 17 at 1:25 pm

  3. Well, our guy Johansen got mauled again last night and now sports a 22.50 ERA. The clock is ticking for him I would think.

    It could be the reason why there are so many guys MIA in Florida is that they expect there will be a heavy turnover in the next couple of months as a lot of these marginal guys wash out. Simonds and VanVossen, for example, are also off to horrendous starts, and are already 24 years old.

    Karl Kolchak

    11 Apr 17 at 1:33 pm

  4. I’ll do a quick review of the MIA/XST guys tomorrow; agreed there seems to be more than a few “april is your last chance” guys out there right now.

    I mean to mention in the Potomac post: so far it looks like “tandem” starts is going on in Potomac. I wonder if they’ll do the same in Hagerstown. So far the “2nd guy in” has thrown as follows:
    – VanVossen: 2 1/3
    – Held 2
    – Bourque: 2
    – Simonds 3
    – JMills: 2
    – Howard: 3
    – Pantoja: 2

    So that’s 5 starters, each of whom went 4-5 at best, then each of these 7 relievers went at least 2 and sometimes more. Only Bogucki has yet to throw … Anyone want to predict Sharp goes 4 and Bogucki gets a 2-3 inning stint tonight?

    Todd Boss

    11 Apr 17 at 1:55 pm

  5. Hagerstown in particular did a lot of the tag-team starts last year as well. Crownover always seemed to follow Andrew Lee, for example. I think that’s a good idea, particularly at the lower levels. At Potomac this year, the lefty trio all seem to be playing the 2d guy roles.


    11 Apr 17 at 2:06 pm

  6. Here was Longenhagen’s underwhelming take on Watson in his Nat prospect list:

    “Tyler Watson, LHP, 2.6 KATOH+ – Watson is a big, projectable lefty with a deceptive but ugly delivery that scouts think will necessitate a move to the bullpen where his fastball/curveball combo could play in middle relief.”


    11 Apr 17 at 3:47 pm

  7. KW – I gather that the reason Watson was willing to sign for $700K as a 34th rounder out of HS instead of going to college is that he knew he was risking not gaining velocity and ending up as a non-bonus baby. He’s got the frame to be a front line starter, the question is will he develop the velocity and feel for pitching to go with it. At this point it is way too early to get a good estimate on where he will end up.

    Karl Kolchak

    11 Apr 17 at 4:43 pm

  8. If the Nats go on and do good things this season, let’s remember this series with STL as the first important righting of the ship. The Nats had made a mess of that whole weekend in Philly. They had terribly overtaxed their bullpen, and Trea had gotten hurt. We’ve still got a long way to go, but things look a lot healthier than they did just a few days ago.

    Also, kudos to Gio for such a strong start to the season. He was (typically) shaky early, but he settled down and logged seven innings, which he was rarely able to do last year.

    Card fans, meanwhile, should be worried. As we said several weeks ago when Todd looked at prospective rotations, four of the five STL starters were over 4.00 ERA last year. Their bullpen doesn’t look strong, either.


    12 Apr 17 at 5:28 am

  9. And introducing your MLB WAR leader, Daniel Murphy. What a signing this guy has been, maybe the biggest free agent value in baseball. Like the Roark trade, I have trouble giving Rizzo full credit for it, since it seemed like he was the third option.

    At what point does extending him become something to seriously try to get done? Maybe if he holds the elite hitting through the ASB?

    Well, looks like we are going to get to see Difo on an extended audition. Not a bad time for it, with everyone else in the lineup clicking (other than Rendon).


    12 Apr 17 at 8:11 am

  10. Just as long as Difo bats 8th instead of 2d. He’s really looked overmatched by MLB pitching several times.

    The only real question mark about extending Murph would be age. He would turn 34 at the start of his new contract. He does show every indication of staying healthy and continuing to work hard, but since the era of the magic juice ended, there haven’t been many “ageless” players in their later 30s. I’d float a modest extension, say 3/36M. I’d be willing to go up a little on money, but not on years.

    The other question I’d raise with Murph is whether he’s going to be able to stay at 2B as he ages. He’s already had some less-than-stellar defensive movements this season. The Nats do have some higher profile infielders in the system now in Kieboom and Neuse, and their development speed may become a factor in a potential Murphy extension.


    12 Apr 17 at 9:23 am

  11. I agree with you on years, but I think the money has to go way up. If he keeps hitting like this, why shouldn’t he at least get the Edwin contract, 3/60? I also agree with you that he isn’t much longer for second base. But an extension with him almost perfectly coincides with the end of Zims contract and he can move to first base.


    12 Apr 17 at 9:50 am

  12. Yeah, why the F was Difo batting 2nd last night?? hate to criticize a win, but the lineup made no sense. Werth has more than proven in his career he’s the kind of high contact/high OBP guy who makes perfect sense to bat 2nd. With injuries we’re currently dealing with, i want to see Eaton, Werth, Harper, Murphy, Zimmerman, Rendon, Wieters, Difo.

    Todd Boss

    12 Apr 17 at 9:53 am

  13. I can’t get to $60M for Murphy’s declining years. Perhaps I’d do 20/18/16 = 54. Big factors will be whether they think they can extend Harper (at the same time Murph would start a new contract) and Rendon (a year later). Again, the progress of guys like Kieboom, Neuse, Ward, and Gutierrez will have a lot to do with how much they’re willing to offer Two Bags.


    12 Apr 17 at 10:04 am

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