Nationals Arm Race

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

Minor League Staffs – one month check-in


Voth has completely remade his career in less than a month. Photo official

Voth has completely remade his career in less than a month. Photo official

I havn’t been doing regular check-ins with the minor league staffs for a few years, but I have always maintained little “cheat sheet” notes on the staffs of the levels day in/day out (thanks in no small part to the daily work of Luke Erickson over at Nationals Prospects of course).

It occurred to me, doing updates this week, that the four full season rotations have been about as stable as I can ever remember them this year.  So I thought i’d do a quick swing through the four staffs, with quick notes on who has looked good or bad and what we may see in terms of movement going forward.

Syracuse (stats link here:

  • Opening day rotation: Voth, Milone*, Fedde, EJackson, Vargas
  • Current rotation: Milone*, Voth, Fedde, EJackson, Vargas
  • spot starts/swingman: Simms, Goforth
  • bullpen: Collins*, Cordero, CSmith, Miller, Adams, Valdez
  • promotions: Torres, Gott, Suero
  • up-and-back: Adams, Voth
  • demotions: Long,
  • dl/restricted/TIL: Barrett, Satterwhite

Rotation thoughts: A month in and the only change we’ve seen to the AAA rotation was the flipping of Milone and Voth thanks to Voth’s brief call-up earlier this week.  Voth has absolutely re-made his career so far this year, going from possible “first man to be DFA’d” off the 40-man to a guy who is forcing his way into the conversation the next time the Nats need a starter.  For May he’s posted a 0.76 ERA, a 0.68 WHIP, has a 30/3 K/BB ratio in 23 innings and has given up just 13 hits.  Man, is he found gold for a team who has traded away an awful lot of pitching prospects over the past couple of seasons?

The veteran insurance policies Jackson and Milone are both pitching about as I’d expect them to be: Milone slightly better, with better base-runner control, Jackson with more wildness and worse stats.   Erick Fedde has not been either good or bad, giving up a hit an inning and maintaining a 4-1 K-BB ratio but not showing any real dominance.  My guess is that he’ll be sticking in AAA for a while.

The last guy in the rotation may be the most interesting: Cesar Vargas was a low-key spring MLFA signing after bouncing around San Diego’s system last year.  He’s come out in 2018 looking serviceable and might be putting himself ahead of the veterans in the pecking order.

Bullpen thoughtsJohn Simms has looked great in a long-man role.  He’s quietly been serviceable at every level in his journey upwards and you have to wonder if he’ll eventually push for a 9/1 call up.  Most of the rest of the bullpen is too SSS to make real judgements, though we have seen three relievers get pushed to the majors right now (Torres, Gott, Suero) and fourth who was up and is now in AAA (Adams).  Cordero still shows the same issues that have plagued him for a while; he’s got 16/8 K/BB in 11 innings.  Barrett remains  with the system and we hope he can get back to his former self; he’d certainly help out at the MLB level.

Who is making a push for promotion?  Voth

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Smith, Cordero


Harrisburg (stats =

  • Opening day rotation: Dragmire, JRodriguez, Darnell*,  LReyes, Estevez
  • Current Rotation: Dragmire, JRodriguez, Long, LReyes, Estevez
  • spot starts/swingman: AWilliams, Darnell*
  • bullpen: Fleck, Guillon*, BHarper*, RMendez, Self,  Ames
  • promotions: Valdez
  • dl/restricted: Brinley, Bacus
  • Missing from 2017: NLee*

Rotation thoughts: The only substantive change in the rotation from the first pass through was to replace Darnell with Long.  Dragmire and Jefry Rodriguez  have both excelled thus far, though Rodriguez’s stats look more like a guy who might be pressing for promotion (more Ks, fewer hits).  Dragmire is showing more of what he displayed last year at AA and he may need the additional challenge of AAA soon.  Estevez and Reyes are not faring as well thus far, with elevated ERAs and WHIPs.  And Long, upon his demotion from AAA, has been poor in his three AA starts, with just 6 punch-outs and a 1.85 WHIP in 13 innings.  Rodriguez seems like the first starter in line for promotion.

Bullpen thoughts:  Austen Williams has looked great since getting moved out of the rotation.  Kaleb Fleck has some interesting stats: he’s got an 18/1 K/BB ratio in 10 innings but has an ugly 5.91 ERA (I’m sure his FIP is like 3 points lower).  Fleck is too good for AA; he spent all last  year in AAA and isn’t proving anything here.  Bryan Harper‘s return from injury is going ok .. he’s got nearly a 2.00 WHIP though.  Long serving Nats farmhand Dakota Bacus got shelled in four appearances and currently sits on the D/L; he had excellent numbers in 2017 but is getting a bit long in the tooth for AA and I wonder if he’s running out of time.  One big name still sits in XST: Nick Lee, who looked promising before injuries derailed his progress.

Who is making a push for promotion?   Fleck, JRodriguez, AWilliams

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Bacus


(stats link:

  • opening day rotation: Crownover*, Sharp, Baez, Mapes, Crowe
  • starters: Crownover*, Sharp, Baez, ?, Crowe
  • spot starts/swingmen: Pantoja, Howard*, Guilbeau*, McGowin
  • bullpen: JMills*, Bourque, Klobosits, RPena, Peterson, Rivera
  • demotions: Fuentes
  • dl/restricted: Borne*, Mapes
  • Missing: Romero*

Rotation thoughts: The only change to the opening day rotation literally happened yesterday, with Mapes dropping to the D/L and (likely)  McGowin (freshly taken off the AA D/L and demoted to Potomac) likely to take his place.  Mapes has the best starter ERA … but the worst WHIP.  Crownover may have the nicest looking stat line, with a nifty 28/4 K/BB ratio and solid peripherals.  Perhaps the most important high-A arm may be Wil Crowe and so far he’s more than handling high-A; the 2017 2nd rounder  has a great whip, good ratios and is looking like an excellent draft pick.   Baez and Sharp fill out the rest of the rotation; both showing mid 4 ERAs and not really being good enough or bad enough to comment on thus far.  The one big notable missing name here is Seth Romero, who should be featuring in this rotation as we speak but instead apparently still sits not at XST but at home in Houston.  Its hard to prove the “i told you so” guys wrong when it literally took less than a season for his well-publicized maturity issues to come to the forefront.

Bullpen thoughts:  Some good and some bad in the bullpen; Rivera and Howard have gotten dinged so far, while Bourque, Mills and Pantoja look solid.  Bourque in particular now boasts a 22/4 K/BB ratio in 12 relief innings; like that ratio.  36th rounder Klobosits still looking solid; how exactly was he still around that late in the draft if he’s already succeeding in high-A?

Who is making a push for promotion?  Bourque

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Rivera perhaps


Hagerstown (stats =

  • Opening day rotation: BHill/Braymer*, Raquet*/Acevedo, Tetreault/Bogucki, Alastre/Troop*, Stoeckinger*/Johnston
  • Current rotation: Troop*, Raquet*, Acevedo, Tetreault, Alastre, Stoeckinger*
  • spot starts/swingman: Johnston, Bogucki, Held, Braymer*
  • bullpen: McKinney, Brasher, Fuentes
  • promotions: Guilbeau*
  • dl/restricted: Howell, BHill
  • Cut/Released/FA from 2017: Engelbrekt (retired)
  • missing from 2017/XST: YRamirez*, DeRosier, CPena, Simonds, Barnett*, Morse, Dickey, WDavis,

Rotation thoughts: It was clear to this observer that the first few turns through the rotation were in the “tandem starter” configuration, with each of the names in the “opening rotation” throwing roughly 3-4 innings each.  That has now settled into the current 6-man rotation, all of which now seem to be getting the lion’s share of the innings each time through.   Of the “starters,” only really Raquet has acquitted himself well, though i’m concerned about the lack of swing and miss in his game (19/8 K/BB ratio in 27 innings supporting a 2.28 ERA and a 1.05 whip).  The rest of the starters are struggling: Stoeckinger hasn’t walked a soul yet in 24 innings … .but has given up 37  hits for an ugly 7.50 ERA.  Tetreault, Alastre and Acevedo  each have ERAs north of 7.00.   Troop and Hill (both 2017 top-10 round draftees) have been less bad but have room for improvement.

The “tandem” starters have been a different story though.  Bogucki and Braymer each have been solid, with Braymer sporting a 23/2 K/BB ratio and a 0.81 WHIP and Bogucki sporting a 20/3 K/BB ratio.  I wonder how long it’ll be before these guys become the “starters” instead of the “finishers.”

Bullpen thoughts: There’s really only a couple of real “relievers” in Low-A, but one of them has been quite solid.  McKinney has a 14/1 K/BB ratio in just 8 2/3 innings and has yet to give up an earned run.

There’s still a slew of guys technically in “XST” or assigned to the Short-A roster who could fill in here, most of whom have prior Low-A experience and could contribute.

Who is making a push for promotion?   Braymer, Bogucki, McKinney

Who is in jeopardy of a demotion (or worse): Acevedo, Alastre


That’s a quick run through the systems.  Did anyone want to point out someone in particular who they think needs to be talked about?

28 Responses to 'Minor League Staffs – one month check-in'

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  1. I’d give a little more love to Collins. Given his extensive MLB experience I would not be surprised to see him in DC soon


    4 May 18 at 3:59 pm

  2. Collins fell into the “short sample size” category for me … which may not be fair since I criticized some guys for having crummy stats in SSS but not middle of the road stats.

    But fair enough; i didn’t notice the fact that he’s only given up 3 HITS in 9 2/3rds innings at AAA. Even with a walk every other inning, that’s not too bad. I don’t think it’d be any surprise to see him called up if/when we have a lefty injury in the MLB pen.

    Todd Boss

    4 May 18 at 4:42 pm

  3. Um, about that supposedly improved Phillie pitching staff . . . or the folks who think we’re supposed to be missing Pivetta . . .


    4 May 18 at 8:12 pm

  4. AAA > MLB: Gott looks like he’s finally figured things out and can stick as a nice piece in middle relief. Torres has been decent but is disposable if he ceases to be. Suero finally gets his chance. Not a lot of velocity, but he gets guys out.

    AAA: The Voth turnaround is amazing. Caught me and many others completely by surprise. It’s much-needed, too, as there’s not a lot in the upper-minors pipeline right now. Fedde has been competent but not knocking down the doors. I would bet EJax has an opt-out; Milone probably not. Hellickson seems to be locking down #5 with the big club, but of course they need depth in case of injuries.

    AA: Not much here that excites me. I’m glad J-Rod is off to a good start, but at this stage, if he makes the majors, it’s probably going to be in the ‘pen.

    A+: Crowe is one of the most important arms in the organization right now. The Nats really need to get some legit MLB-quality arms out of the class of ’17. I’m thinking they’ll promote Crowe after 10 starts or so, particularly because of his age. We keep hearing about Baez and his “big arm,” but he’s getting clocked again tonight. Among the relievers, Klobosits and Howard are intriguing.

    A: Raquet looks like first in line for a promotion. It is concerning that despite a heater said to touch 98 he’s not striking out many folks. Still waiting for results from Troop, Tetreault, and Stoeckinger, all of whom have nice physical tools. I’m surprised that they already seem to have Johnston ticketed for the ‘pen. McKinney is a 31st rounder who got rocked at Auburn but seems to have figured something out. He’ll be in Woodbridge soon.

    AWOL: OK, he’s actually absent WITH leave, and wow, how long that leave has been. Dude must have really screwed the pooch already. Hey, don’t look at me; I was screaming that they shouldn’t draft him. Alex Lange, who would have been my pick, is already holding his own at A+. Romero was a downright stupid pick.


    4 May 18 at 9:13 pm

  5. Oops, so much for saying good thing about Gott . . .


    4 May 18 at 9:52 pm

  6. J-Rod, Baez, and Raquet all got clocked on Friday evening.


    5 May 18 at 7:55 am

  7. I had a whole comment about the 2017 draft that got waxed. But suffice it to say Crowe is one of the only highlights right now.

    Todd Boss

    5 May 18 at 8:06 am

  8. btw…. Max Schrock only hitting .343 for Card’s in Triple A. Who’d we trade him for again? Some guy with a crazy name I think…

    Marty C

    5 May 18 at 8:49 pm

  9. I’d be more upset about the Luzardo/Neuse trade than the Schrock trade right now. Neuse plays a rarer position and is also at AAA a year younger than Schrock. Luzardo now in AA as a 20yr old. Both on top 100 prospect lists (something Schrock cannot say).

    Todd Boss

    6 May 18 at 11:41 am

  10. Yeah but Schrock is a PURE hitter. Just does it everywhere every time. You can’t argue with that. And you really can’t have enough of those. Power or not. Would love to have him back slapping singles around the park.

    Marty C

    6 May 18 at 3:47 pm

  11. Neuse and Luzardo > Schrock, but Schrock was a bad trade, Neuse and Luzardo were not. Because Schrock didn’t return anything of value, even though the alphabet didn’t do badly, he was still a middle reliever. while Madson and Doolittle have been enormously important, High leverage guys under control. Can you imagine the bullpen for the last 12 months without those guys? Good grief. You can’t steal every trade, you have to give value to get value. Schrock was just a giveaway. Not as bad as Avila for Norris, but bad.

    But in hindsight, also giving up Treinen was a big mistake. He could have been an amazing middle relief guy for us, a role he did well even with us. It was the high leverage that he couldn’t handle. And I think Oakland would have done it with someone else rather than Treinen.


    6 May 18 at 7:20 pm

  12. We’ll probably trade Crowe, Noll and Agustin to get him back.


    6 May 18 at 7:21 pm

  13. Also, OT, but at what sample size does Difo get acknowledged as a legit big leaguer? I think he’s one of those guys that needs the rhythm of playing every day, rather than as a utility guy, but I think he has already shown enough bat that, when added to his defense and running, make him at least an average MI, with the chance to be above average. I don’t think he’ll show the power to look like Ramirez from CLE, but he is the ‘lite’ version.


    6 May 18 at 8:02 pm

  14. Agree on Difo. hes the plug in for Murphy’s departure in the off-season. His defensive stats at 2B and 3B have been awesome so far this year (SSS):

    Todd Boss

    7 May 18 at 8:19 am

  15. Why did Treinen literally go from garbage to awesome the moment he got to oakland?

    2017 for the Nats: 5.73 ERA, 1.6 whip in 37.2 innings
    2017 for the A’s: 2.13, 1.158 whip in 38 innings
    .. and even better this year.

    something’s odd about this. I know “change of scenery” and all that, but how did this not work out for us?

    Todd Boss

    7 May 18 at 8:32 am

  16. I think Treinen was garbage only in high leverage situations. He was pretty solid in middle relief, Low leverage situations, but blew up (mostly) when asked to close . I do think they could have some found someone else to include instead of him though, since Neuse and Luzardo were the prize to a rebuilding team. It felt like Rizzo just gave up on him because of the high profile closing failures.


    7 May 18 at 9:32 am

  17. Difo is interesting. I’ve been bearish on him as an MLB-caliber hitter because his MiLB stats are pretty underwhelming. He’s been below league average overall apart from a (really quite excellent) stretch at Hagerstown in 2014. He hit very well at Potomac to start 2015 and was moved quickly to AA. Since then, however, he’s been blah with the bat. Consistently below league average for almost three full seasons. I’ve seen a guy who makes enough contact, but doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t walk, which is not enough even with good defense and baserunning.

    But this year, the BB% has spiked – almost double his rate before this year. A guy who walks ~15% of the time can hit mostly singles and be quite valuable if he has speed and plays good defense at a premier position, which Difo does. I look at his 2018 stats and don’t see anything that stands out as an unsustainable red flag. His BABIP is high (.348), but he’s lived in the .330s during his minor league career, so it’s not totally out of line. His success this year is different from his success at Hagerstown in 2014, however. Then, he hit for a lot more power and didn’t walk. I’d be more worried if his 2018 output was being fueled by a power surge, which I’d think is more fleeting. We’ve seen a Difo power balloon that eventually deflated. We haven’t seen patience like this before.

    So is the big bump in BB% sustainable? I really don’t know. He’s drawn a number of walks recently while hitting in front of Harper, which seems odd. BB% for a hitter is supposedly a very quickly stabilizing number. Moreover, both Difo and Turner have made huge jumps in BB%. Interestingly enough, they have fairly similar track records by this metric (~7%) and have jumped to similar places (~14.X%). I wonder if the coaching change has something to do with their more patient approaches.

    In the past, I’ve totally dismissed the idea of Difo as a Murphy replacement in 2019. I’m slowly becoming less attached to that position.


    7 May 18 at 11:29 am

  18. I think Difo and Turner is all coaching staff. Davey showed on opening day by batting Turner 7th that he’s not putting him up top by default just because he’s fast. He was going to have to act like a true leadoff if he wanted to lead off. This is going to help these guys in the long run immensely. For a while these guys were looking more like MAT than Murphy. Turner is expressing very little power now but I’d rather have him walk and make contact than be streaky K guy with some power. I still don’t think Turner is a really good hitter yet. he was just getting by on raw talent before. But the walks are promising for his development as he starts to really figure out the MLB strike zone on breaking pitches.

    Marty C

    7 May 18 at 10:03 pm

  19. I need a larger sample to be convinced that Difo is an everyday guy for a contender. What he’s done in my eyes is get over the AAAA hump and establish himself as a viable MLB bench guy.

    What I don’t need is a larger sample to start thinking about an extension for Matt Adams. I know he has a history of being incredibly streaky, but so does Zim. Adams + Kevin Long = muy friggin’ bueno thus far. If you want a cheap power option for the middle of your lineup if Harper leaves, he’s got to be one of the pieces they consider. And considering the total devaluation of the 1B/LF market, he shouldn’t cost much, unless he ends up hitting 50 or something . . . which would be a good “problem” to have!

    As for Treinen, it was/is all psychological. He’s always had the stuff. The Dusty/Maddux push that he become a bulldog didn’t work, and neither did Rizzo’s insistence that he be the closer. Someone has pushed the right buttons with him in OAK, combined with a lot less pressure of not being on a contender. Would you ever trust him in the 9th of a playoff game, though?


    8 May 18 at 8:23 am

  20. The rise of Difo (which we kind of saw last year too, when he covered for Turner ably and scouting reports listed him as a “starting MLB infielder”) along with the coming freight train of Soto and Robles seems to be more than enough to bridge the gap between our current generation of offense and the next. Harper and Murphy combined make nearly $40M this year; they seem to be replaceable in 2019 by two guys making a combined $1.1M. Wieters $10M salary out, Severino’s MLB minimum in as well. Turner still pre-arb and affordable.

    Soto in particular seems like he’s ready to be the next Vlad Guerrero Jr. prospect in terms of hype. Soto is 6months older but has a year less development but their 2018 numbers are nearly identically ridiculous. It isn’t hard to squint and see a very productive mid 2019 outfield of Eaton, Robles and Soto (with Taylor back in the 4th OF spot like he should be) and Harper’s $40M/year salary elsewhere.

    Agree on Adams: I think the team has learned its lesson to a certain extent and is cashing in its chips in terms of these one-year fliers on veteran FAs. Whereas a few years back they would have resigned guys, they’re now letting go guys like Lind and Albers and Belisle instead of holding on a year too long like they did on guys like Heisey

    Todd Boss

    8 May 18 at 9:25 am

  21. I thought Adams still had another year of control? Is there a site that shares that information?

    I’d like to see Murphy back with the team, assuming he comes back as the same player. I just like his bat, character and attitude. He can middle through at 2b for 1 more year then slide to first. If it’s him or Adams, I’d choose Murphy.

    I’d like to see Rendon extended too. Then all they need is pitching.

    Non superstar Vets may be the new market inefficiency. Adams and Kendrick have been very important so far and aren’t even making middle reliever money. Probably numerous other examples around the league if i took the time to look.

    I think we’ve seen what we needed to from raffy bautista, no? I’d put him to the top of the DFA line and think about Ariel Hernandez next.


    8 May 18 at 10:13 am

  22. I, too, need a larger sample to conclude that Difo is an everyday guy for a contender. But the sample we have thus far in 2018 has changed my view from “it’s ridiculous to pencil in Difo as a starter in 2019” to “it’s possible he’s made some real sustainable improvements that could make him starter-worthy.” For what it’s worth, Severino (who is a joy to watch because he “brings it” so consistently) still falls in the “it’s ridiculous to think he’s a starter because he can’t hit” category.

    Let’s see Murphy play – both offense and defense – before we start handing out extensions.

    Let’s also not kid ourselves and say that Harper can be replaced by a guy making the minimum. Harper’s expected OPS each year is 1000. If he walks, it may be a very long time before another Nat OPSes 1000 in a full season. There may be better ways to spend Harper’s money (for the record, I would pay him whatever it takes to keep him here), but he’s not really replaceable.

    Just a thought: a starting lineup that includes Turner, Robles, Difo, and Taylor would have INSANE speed.


    8 May 18 at 11:02 am

  23. I have been beating the drum for several years that the Nats should do whatever it takes to extend Harper. Now, I’m not so sure, although the good news is that the market is so depressed now, and so narrow for him in particular, that I don’t think he’s going to get $40M/per anywhere. His two dream teams have been the Yankees, who have no place for him, and the Dodgers, who seem much more focused on young (cheaper) talent. Does he want the “record-setting” deal so much that he’d play for the Phillies to get it? We’ll see. I don’t think the Nats would/should go beyond $35M/per for him, in part because of the luxury tax constraints.

    Soto’s rapid progress has to factor into the Nats’ thinking. I was never on board with the talk that Robles could sorta “replace” Bryce, but Soto is more of a Bryce-type talent at the plate. Is he a 1.000 OPS talent? Hard to know.

    Spending on the horizon: I now think the Nats are going to have to extend Gio, and maybe Hellickson as well. Fedde hasn’t been great at AAA, they’ve shown a lot of reluctance to promote Voth, and who knows about Ross’s longer-term health. Roark’s contract will be up after ’19, and Stras has an opt-out option then as well. Maybe Crowe is ready by then, but it’s hard to point to anyone else (discussed in the original post) who is showing current promise to make it at that level.

    Also, there’s no logical baseball reason for the Nats to pick up Zim’s option after ’19. The market for 1B/LF bats is virtually nil right now. I would be game for extending Murph as Zim’s 1B replacement, but not for that much more that what Murph is making now. Again, there’s no market for 1B bat-first guys. If the Nats offered Adams something like 4/$32M, he’d probably take it in a heartbeat. Would I rather have Murph over Adams? Theoretically yes, as Murph is a significantly better contact hitter, but as Derek noted, let’s get a look at the knee first, particularly for a guy who was already short on mobility.


    8 May 18 at 1:26 pm

  24. Wally, the contract site you are after is Cot’s Baseball contract (link for the Nats below). Adams is just a one year deal, Howie’s was the two year deal.


    8 May 18 at 1:52 pm

  25. Thanks James, I knew he signed a 1 yr contract, but for some reason I thought he was arb eligible next year too.

    Adams is off to a great start, and I like him, but there is no contest for me if the question is this Adams v. 2016/2017 Murphy. I agree, let’s see what he is when he starts playing again, but he has a much longer track record of overall batting success (not just contact, but the last two years he is an equal slugger), playoff performance and has intangibles the Nats need.

    I also don’t know that I think Difo has established himself as an above average MI yet, just that he continues to produce so I’m at least asking myself the question.


    8 May 18 at 3:09 pm

  26. We may lament that someone else “fixed” Treinen, but let’s also praise whoever with the Nats has “fixed” Hellickson, who has been the FA bargain of the season thus far. SSS and all that, but goodness, he’s been good, at least for five or six innings.

    Meanwhile, here are some ERAs of other FA starters: Darvish, 6.00; Lynn, 7.28; Cobb, 7.61. (And Hellickson, 2.28; Arrieta, 3.15)

    Dodgers lose to Snakes again and are now nine back. Harvey now officially gone from Mets (and the Reds insanely picked up his salary).


    9 May 18 at 9:36 am

  27. The reds didn’t pick up his salary. They swapped a surplus at C for a P, each team is paying their own guy.

    And it’s a quibble, but high leverage is the only thing OAK ‘fixed’ about Treinen, he was good for us in low leverage. And it remains to be seen if they actually did anything, or it was the low profile of their games that did it. If they are in an actual pennant race and Treinen is still performing as closer, then I’ll say they fixed something.


    9 May 18 at 10:57 am

  28. Treinen always had the great arm, but it’s hard to pitch when you are having trouble breathing. The pressure of the 9th inning will do that to you.

    Mark L

    10 May 18 at 2:02 pm

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