Nationals Arm Race

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

Observations on the first time through the Minor League Rotations


Well, we’re a week into the season and we’ve seen one turn through the minor league rotations. Lets take a quick look at what we’re looking at for rotations at the four full season levels and do a quick observation of who looked hot and cold.

These rotation orders are maintained on the Big Board, where i’ve also attempted to put the bullpen into their roles (Closer, Setup, middle relief, loogy and Long Reliever/spot starters). That effort may prove to be impossible to maintain, especially in lower levels where they’ve gone to tandem starts in years past, but we’ll see how it goes.

The rotations, despite the minors going to 6-game series, seem to be 5-man rotations, which isn’t nearly as neat as it could be, but whatever.

Rotations by level:

  • AAA: Nolin, Fuentes, Braymer, JRodriguez, Armenteros,
  • AA: Cate, MSanchez, Teel, Sharp, LReyes
  • High-A: Rutledge, Adon, Cavalli, Henry,
  • Low-A: Strom, Seijas, PGonzalez, Parker, Theopile

Who looked good:

  • Carson Teel: managed to go 5 innings, unlike the rest of the AA rotation. Gave up 4 hits and just one earned run. Not bad.
  • Cade Cavalli: 5ip, 2 hits, 7Ks, zero runs in his pro debut? More please.
  • Joan Adon: Same whip as Cavalli but still relatively unhittable despite giving up a couple of runs. I like his easy action and I think he’s a fast mover this year.
  • Pedro Gonzalez: just 3 1/3 but 1 hit and 2 walks against 5 Ks in low A at age 20. I’ll take that.
  • Mitchell Parker: 7Ks in 4innings in his pro debut. Works for me.

Who looked awful

  • Steven Fuentes: not a great start, but a quick hook compared to the next guy.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: geeze; 6 walks and didn’t make it out of the first?
  • Sterling Sharp: not a good start, at all. 8 runs in less than 3 innings in AA when he was pitching in the majors last year.
  • Tim Cate: somehow, his ERA is higher than Sharp’s.
  • Leif Strom: 2ip, 7 runs .. ugh. He was so bad it already looks like he has been replaced in the rotation, in that he pitched a couple innings in the Theopile start.
  • Karlo Seijas: the worst start of anyone: 2/3 of an inning and 7 runs.

20 Responses to 'Observations on the first time through the Minor League Rotations'

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  1. In the offseason, the Nat starter depth looked really good. Voth likely would go to the bullpen (which he did) and possibly be used as a swingman (which hasn’t happened). (He has been extremely effective out of the ‘pen thus far but hasn’t been used in a lot of high-leverage situations.) The thought was that Fedde would be sent to Rochester to be stretched out as first man up, but that didn’t happen when he won an appeal negating his last option, then was needed anyway because of the Stras and Lester issues.

    But then beyond those guys, the next-up list looked pretty solid: J-Rod, Sharp, Armenteros, Romero, and Braymer, in some order. Then games actually started. The first four of those were mostly absent from Spring Training, and Braymer wasn’t great. Romero has entered the witness protection program yet again (alleged rib injury?), Sharp wasn’t even deemed AAA-worthy (and got rocked at AA), and J-Rod couldn’t even make it out of the first inning. Braymer was the least-bad of that bunch, giving up three runs in five innings.

    And with all of those guys allegedly giving the Nats starter depth, the first spot-start call up went to . . . . Paolo Espino.

    I mean, what a collective train wreck thus far. Plus my guy Fuentes hasn’t been good in his two starts . . . but then he should be a reliever anyway. I literally have no idea who Nolin is. I had to look him up when he was the Rochester opening-day starter.


    10 May 21 at 12:04 pm

  2. It’s VERY early, but after two starts, there’s reason for concern that Cate could be hitting his ceiling at AA. I also have concern that some guys like Henry may be starting off at too high a level.

    Very encouraging starts by Cavalli, Adon, and Mitchell Parker. Plus Teel continues to fly under the radar.

    There aren’t going to be too many highlights when the system’s teams are a collective 3-21, though. We knew it might not be good, but that’s frightening.


    10 May 21 at 12:09 pm

  3. Some love deserved for Rodney Theophile, who hadn’t pitched competitively since August 2018 and didn’t allow an earned run in his four innings of work while striking out four. Need to see more, but that’s something to build on.

    Cate and Fuentes are relievers, and probably specialist relievers (as opposed to setup/closer types) at that, but it seems like the Nats don’t want to admit “defeat” and use these types of guys how they ought to be used until it’s too late. In fairness, the system is so thin that right now we have guys like Brzykcy and Cronin whom no one projects as anything other than one-inning relievers working into third innings even at comparatively stacked High-A Wilmington.


    10 May 21 at 12:16 pm

  4. I admit that when Sao wrote about Theophile on Luke’s site I knew nothing about him. He IS intriguing. Looking forward to more.

    Mark L

    10 May 21 at 1:48 pm

  5. Combined record of our four affiliates after one week: 3-21.

    Ladies and gentlemen … your Washington Farm system!

    Todd Boss

    10 May 21 at 2:40 pm

  6. The “good” news is that in that time, the Washington Nationals themselves have gone 1-5. So maybe the farm system will look better in 2023 thanks to us having good draft position in 2022?

    Don’t get me wrong, winning is great, and I wouldn’t trade the experience of taking it all in 2019 for anything. But rebuilding stinks, and we haven’t even traded away Scherzer, Turner, or Corbin yet.


    10 May 21 at 4:21 pm

  7. One of the interesting parts of writing a blog about a baseball team is …. its a heck of a lot easier to write criticism than fan-boy stuff.

    I’m attempting to withold too much criticism of the big team since it is just mid-may.

    Todd Boss

    12 May 21 at 1:15 pm

  8. Yes, and we’re all a little wary of declaring the team dead in mid-May after what happened in 2019.

    At the same time, the team in 2019 was clearly, from a talent standpoint, far ahead of this 2021 squad — sure, Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber’s baseball cards tell us they’re not nearly *this* bad, and Brad Hand probably won’t make a regular habit of blowing three leads in two games, but we’re also missing the likes of Anthony Rendon, Howie Kendrick, Aníbal Sánchez, Kurt Suzuki, and Sean Doolittle from that championship team — and what happened in 2019 was an extreme rarity. So while it’s justifiably grist for the “never give up, never surrender” crowd, it’s also unrealistic to just expect 2019 to repeat itself for us.

    This was also around the point in the 2019 season when Mike Rizzo recognized some of the role players he brought in over the winter, um, weren’t really playing roles. And he started getting creative.

    Trevor Rosenthal was given about a month longer in 2019 from where we are at this point in the season, although his tenure was padded out by IL stints as the Nats tried to get him back on track. Kyle Barraclough got even more rope than Rosenthal despite actually contributing more to the team’s failures, since the Nats kept wheeling him out in meaningful innings and he kept blowing it. But it was May when the Nationals claimed Javy Guerra, after giving Dan Jennings a brief (and unsuccessful) trial run. They picked up castoffs Fernando Rodney and Jonny Venters a few weeks later. They gave some more Triple-A types tryouts, with mixed results (Tanner Rainey good, Michael Blazek bad).

    The Nats have now lost six of their last seven and can’t be feeling great about tonight’s matchup, with the desiccated husk of Jon Lester opposing Phillies co-ace Zack Wheeler. We’re getting toward time for Mike Rizzo to start using his imagination and finding ways for this team to perform in spite of itself. Yoshi Tsutsugo just got DFA’d — would he really be a worse bench piece than Yadiel Hernandez? For that matter, would the team suffer if he got some of the starts at first base that are now going toward walking strikeout Josh Bell?


    12 May 21 at 2:38 pm

  9. Yes, I’m right there with you guys in increasing concern about the big club. I said all offseason that I was concerned that they just aren’t quite good enough, unless Bell, Schwarber, and Robles really bounce back. Well . . . here’s the bottom line: they’ve scored three runs or less in 18 games. They’re 5-13 in those games. Of course that also means that they’ve lost five games in which they scored more than three, which isn’t good, either.

    With some notable clunker exceptions, the starting pitching has been good, despite missing two of the top four starters for extended periods. With said clunker exceptions, Ross and Fedde have been better than expected. Lester has been better than expected in SSS.

    Also, I noted several times that the Nats’ schedule over the first month and a half was brutal. Things are about to ease up a little. Stras may be back soon. But like Sao, I just don’t see the Rendon/Kendrick-level star power there beyond Trea and Soto.

    We’ll see. I confess that I’m having a hard time in emotionally investing in this squad yet.


    12 May 21 at 6:12 pm

  10. Pretty great that Brad Hand has three saves for us and also two blown saves sandwiched around a walkoff loss in a tie ballgame, huh? Heck of a pickup this offseason.

    I get that no one is perfect, but teams pay closers big money to be perfect, because the job is to be perfect. So having a .500 record as a Washington National on actually doing the damn job, when you’re a closer, isn’t great.

    If a head is gonna roll, obviously it’s going to be a coach before it’s a highly paid player, and it should probably be on the offensive side rather than pitching, given that this team’s cardinal sin is that it couldn’t score runs off a Little League pitcher. But damn is it frustrating to claw and scrape and manage to get in line for a win and then have Hand blow it over and over.


    13 May 21 at 1:58 am

  11. Hand and Finnegan . . . and Rainey. When guys aren’t going well, rotate them to earlier innings. With Hand, though, he’s the “Closer” (TM), and therefore a snowflake who will get his feelings hurt if he’s not allowed to pitch at the back end and lose game after game, even though he’s clearly not as effective as he was earlier in the season. Sigh. Voth has 1.23 ERA, but they’re still not giving him any high-leverage innings. And they’re really missing Suero.

    Now 19 games in which they’ve scored three runs or fewer, record 5-14. They only would have scored one run except Bryce STILL hasn’t learned to properly play the OF.

    On a positive note, Lester has only allowed four runs across three very effective starts.


    13 May 21 at 7:15 am

  12. The big problem with the Nats roster construction for 2021 is that it depends on two things that are dicey to rest expectations on:
    – older players continuing to produce
    – guys who struggled in 2020 getting bounce back years.

    Clearly guys like Scherzer, Lester, Gomes, Zimmerman are in the first category, and guys like Bell, Lester, Schwarber are in the second category. No surprise but both Bell and Schwarber are 2 of hte worst three hitters on the team … so far, the gamble has not paid off. now, Bell should rebound (he has just a .151 BABIP), but Schwarber may not (.242 babip, which is still well below MLB averages of .280-.290 but his career babip is just .266, clearly to me a guy who has been greatly impacted by the shift).

    Maybe you dump Schwearber and just give Hernandez starts and see what kind of feelgood story you continue. but the entire starting rotation is north of 30, and at some point we’re going to have some serious stress on the rotation (even more so than we’ve already had).

    Todd Boss

    13 May 21 at 8:29 am

  13. How about one hit, eight strikeouts for Cavalli through five in his second start? Send that man to Harrisburg!


    13 May 21 at 12:20 pm

  14. I was definitely a skeptic of the pick of Cavalli, and of him being ranked higher than Rutledge. Two starts is a SSS, but he’s the real deal so far. Is it too late to trade him for Kris Bryant?

    There are a lot of folks in the Nats’ lineup at whom to point figures. At what point do we get concerned about Soto at .268? I know he’s missed a lot of games plus isn’t getting a lot of good pitches because of no protection.

    Harrison has cooled off after a hot start. Castro is hitting .300, albeit augmented by a “lucky” .354 BABIP and without much power. Trea and Zim are the only Nats slugging higher than .500, or even more than .444.


    13 May 21 at 1:03 pm

  15. Brzykcy looking like a $10K free-agent steal. He had an awesome 13.9 K/9 at VA Tech but also an insane 10.5 BB/9 — Nuke LaLoosh numbers. If he can find the plate, he could be something.


    13 May 21 at 1:08 pm

  16. Liking Cavalli as well after 2 starts. give me that performance for a month and go to AA.

    Todd Boss

    13 May 21 at 5:23 pm

  17. Wow, look what happens when Schwarber and Bell contribute and Corbin pitches up to his contract.

    Really, the Nat starting pitching is the primary reason to keep any real optimism. That’s where the money is invested, and that’s the part of the team that is going to have to carry it if it’s going to get back into contention.


    13 May 21 at 5:35 pm

  18. So … who had Rutledge with an ERA north of 11 after two starts and Cavalli with a 0.00 era and just 3 hits in 10 innings?

    Records of our four affiliates after saturday 5/15 games: AAA: 2-9, AA 3-8, High-A 5-6, Low-A 0-11. Combined: 10-34. nice!

    Todd Boss

    16 May 21 at 11:00 am

  19. I’m very high on Rutledge, so his early struggles certainly are concerning. I think we’re also seeing that a fair amount of the “success” of various players at the alt site last summer didn’t replace playing at the appropriate level. Rutledge and Antuna are the ones most obviously struggling, but a number of the others have had slow starts.


    17 May 21 at 12:31 pm

  20. Meanwhile, the big club keeps stumbling along, not really looking fully in rhythm, and yet they’re still only three games out in the standings. The schedule is getting a bit easier. Can they actually get a bit of a run going?

    And give Jim Hickey credit: he actually seems to be making a quality starter our of Erik Fedde, where so many other pitching coaches have failed over his last six years as a pro. Sure didn’t look that way when Fedde got blown up in his first start this season, but subsequent progress is quite encouraging. Whenever Stras comes back, Fedde has done more thus far to stay in the rotation than Ross has.


    17 May 21 at 12:40 pm

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