Nationals Arm Race

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

Quick thoughts on the MLB and MiLB rotations one month in


Cade Cavalli not yet ready for the big-dance. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Every year i’m excited to start tracking our minor league pitching, and rotations in particular … and a month in, here’s some quick, random, small sample sized, perhaps not fully backed by statistics or sabremetrics thoughts on our rotations of the four minor league full season affiliates. And just for good measure, i’ll throw in thoughts on the debacle of the MLB rotation as well.

For reference, as always here’s the Big Board, which has the rotations in their pitching order lined up on the same day as the corresponding MLB pitcher, along with the rest of the staffs and their approximate roles.

Note: this was written on Monday 5/2/22 during an off-day so any moves that have happened since are not accounted for.

MLB Rotation

  • Grey: after a scuffling start, has put in a couple of really sterling outings and is starting to look like the headlining prospect we gave up Scherzer and Turner for. FIP is a bit higher than his ERA, which is indicative of his high walk rate, but he’s mowing them down to the tune of 10.7 K/9.
  • Adon: a 7.33 ERA and equally ugly whips and fips show that, as i’ve maintained for most of the last year and a half, he’s overpromoted. One September start against Boston seems to have blinded fan-boys across the Natmosphere into where Adon really is. He’s 23, which is generally the age of our current high-A rotation, and you can count the number of starts he’s had above AA on two hands. I think he needs to be in AAA.
  • Corbin, who is making $23M this year and is under contract through the 2024 season (and its balloon gift payment of a $35M payroll figure that year) continues to dumbfound observers; how could someone be so effective two years ago and fall apart so comprehensively? He’s now posting an 8.69 ERA, a whip north of 2.0, and a 43 ERA+ this season. His only saving grace right now is his obscenely high BABIP of .443, which leads to a normal looking FIP of 3.69 … better than Grey’s amazingly. So, maybe he’s just had a very unlucky April in terms of balls finding their way into the outfield. Either way, he’s not going anywhere, not when he comprises such a large percentage of the payroll and there’s nobody really pushing from AAA for a promotion.
  • Fedde, the guy who I was convinced would get non-tendered this off season (given that he was out of options and pitched horribly in 2021), instead is tendered a contract and given $2.1M guaranteed dollars to be our 5th starter … and has been pitching like it. 6.00 ERA, 1.55 whip, mediocre FIP. He’s yet another example of a guy who, if he had been a 15th rounder and gotten $125K as a signing bonus would have LONG ago been DFA’d and buried in AAA, but because of the “investment” made in him in terms of signing bonus so many years ago, continues to throw MLB innings that virtually ensure losses.
  • Aaron Sanchez at one point was a Fantasy stud, a phenomenal starter for Toronto. Now he’s back in the majors and probably has a pretty extended shot at sticking around. His first two starts were meh, but his peripherals don’t look too bad yet. Now that he’s back in the majors though, he’s got enough service time to refuse a demotion, so he’ll either stick or get DFA’d. My guess is that if he shows any promise whatsoever, he’ll stick in the rotation at the expense of someone else, and the team will look to flip him at the deadline.
  • Josh Rogers was the guy who i thought merited a rotation spot from the get go, not some hail-mary chance at MLFA/NRI/washout Anibel Sanchez. But hey, old habits die hard right?
  • Speaking of Sanchez, he managed to hit the DL pretty much the MOMENT his $2M salary was guaranteed … and it remains to be seen when we’ll see him again. Nice move! His official DL reason was “Nerve impingment in neck.” Anyone want to bet how many starts we get out of him this year?

Hitting the 60-day DL before the season even started were our $35M albatross Stephen Strasburg, who the team still says expects to throw “20-25 starts” this year. I’ll take the under. Joe Ross is earning $2.4M this year to probably sit on the DL for several months with his elbow bone ship removal surgery just done. And of course who can forget our favorite 1st round draft pick Seth Romero, who was recalled and dumped onto the 60-day DL with what was called a “calf strain,” this after suffering a ‘stiff back’ during spring training, and this after suffering a “rib injury” that cost him half of 2021. At what point can he suffer a “DFA injury?”

Next to get demoted/released? I can’t imagine Adon will be allowed to pitch like this the rest of the way and will eventually get pushed back to AAA. Fedde may get the dump if/when one of the DL starters is ready to return … but more likely Rogers (who has options) gets moved since the team has “less invested” in him of course.

What do I think happens next? No changes until Strasburg/Sanchez/Ross is ready to come off the DL.

AAA rotation:

  • Sanchez: promoted and with good reason: 3 starts, 3.60 ERA is best of the AAA rotation, even if his peripherals were not that great (10/5 k/bb in 15 innings, 1.47 whip).
  • Verrett: I think he’s meant more to be a reliever but has 2 starts and 7 IP.  Maybe they put Braymer back in rotation.
  • Tetreault: 1.54 whip, 5.56 ERA but his fip is going to be lower b/c his BAA is decent.
  • Cavalli: interestingly on 13 Ks in 15 innings right now, ugly era 6.23, but his whip is not bad 1.27 and he’s only got a .234 BAA.
  • Reyes: an offseason MLFA who now has a 14.18 ERA … seems like he’s getting ready to get released.
  • Jrodriguez: weird numbers: 8.31 ERA but only a .184 BAA. .. oh its b/c he has 10 walks in 13 innings.  Another guy who seems to be just holding down a rotation spot til they’re ready to promote someone from AA.
  • Sharp: put in a spot start in place of the now departed Sanchez and wasn’t half bad (5ip, 4hits 2 runs), and should probably go into the rotation.

Next to get promoted? Nobody is earning it anytime soon; maybe someone like Sharp if they need a spot starter in the majors, but the Nats already has a couple guys in the bullpen who can do that (Espino, Voth).

Next to get demoted/released? Reyes seems to be out of here soon. JRodriguez may not be far behind.

What do I think happens next? Reyes gets released, the team promotes two guys from AA, Verrett and Sharp go back to the pen and we run with Tetreault, Cavalli, JRodriguez and two guys we’re about to cover in the next section…

AA Rotation:

  • Fuentes: 4 competent starts so far; no surprise from someone who should be in AAA. Whip is a little high, should be doing more against AA pitchers.
  • Gausch: Decent numbers, 3.66 era, 1.27 whip, really nice BAA of .194. Pretty good for his first time facing AA hitters. Probably needs to do this for most of the season before promotion.
  • Henry: uh… 13 ip, just 3 hits given up to go with 4 walks. So that’s around 1/2 a baserunner per inning. It goes without saying his era is 0.00 and his BAA is a miniscule 0.073. But, the team is only throwing him 3-4 innings an outing. Obviously, a month in the guy is looking like a sure fire promotion but he’s gotta get his endurance up.
  • Herrera: ERA ugly, but peripherals not bad. He’s too old for the level and either needs to move up or out.
  • Lee: about what we’re expecting; lots of Ks and lots of walks (14/10 in 14 innings). ERA belies some bad peripherals and he’s likely to see that rise soon. Needs more time.

Next to get promoted? Henry and Fuentes.

Next to get demoted/released? Herrera.

What do I think happens next? We probably don’t see much change here for another month, then we see Henry and perhaps Fuentes moved up. Who takes their place? Well, not for nothing but two of our more advanced SP prospects (Cate and Carrillo) are on the AA DL right now; Cate is doing rehab starts and is back soon, Carrillo’s shoulder barked and he may be out for a bit, but it’d make sense for these two to slide in before considering a High-A promotion. They also have an excellent long reliever/spot starter in Alex Troop who is having a fine season who could slot into the rotation soon. There’s nobody really pressing in the immediate from High-A for now, so solutions may come from within. See Next section.


  • Cuevas: solid. 2.79 ERA, 1.09 whip, .179 BAA. That’s not bad for a 23rd rounder who hasn’t turned 21 yet. We may have a find on our hands here.
  • Irvin: 4 starts after two lost seasons and things are looking promising; miniscule 0.69 ERA, similarly small whip, great k/bb 13/2 in 13 innings. Like Henry above him, Irvin is being eased back into starts, just going 3 or 4 at a time, but we’re starting to remember why we drafted him.
  • Merrill: strugging; a walk an inning. a 5.00 ERA that might be higher in FIP. Might make sense to put in the pen.
  • Parker: is continuing the great performance we saw last year in Low-A so far; 2.08 ERA, a .111 BAA. 25 Ks in 17 innings is amazing … but 14 walks in 17 innings is not.
  • Shuman: repeating the level and posting a 5.27 ERA, though his peripherals indicate that’s unlucky. He’s one-thrid of trade bounty we got from Oakland in the Gomes/Harrison deal last trade deadline, so the team doesn’t have a ton invested.

Next to get promoted? Cuevas and Irvin, but no time soon.

Next to get demoted/released? Shuman.

What do I think happens next? Irvin isn’t moving up until he’s doing 6ip a night, same as Henry, so maybe both their fates are tied to each other. Cuevas is lower profile and young, so he might not be moving up anytime soon either. Two of the long relievers here (Knowles and Pena) are having solid seasons and could move into the rotation if need be. There’s not a lot of pressure in Low-A pushing up right now, so we may see this unit intact until the July (see next).


  • Lara: 6.75 ERA, but a nice K/BB 21/6 in 14 innings. He’s punching a ton of guys out, but letting in a ton of contact. He’s only 19, 3-4 years younger than anyone else in this rotation, so we should be patient here.
  • Saenz: a nice line of 3.74 ERA, 1.34 whip, 26/6 K/BB in 21 innings. This is a solid line and should he continue it he should be in line to move up later this season.
  • Theophile: Crushing it so far in a huge turnaround from last year in the same level: 0.86 ERA through 4 starts, and a great 30/5 K/BB in 21 innings. Love that line. I’d like to see this continue for a while though, since he got shelled for the same team last year (5.56 ERA in 22 starts)
  • Alvarez; 5.93 ERA, decent K/9 numbers, 1.46 whip. Probably needs to step it up a bit.
  • Caceres is the only guy here who didn’t end last year on this staff and it shows: ERA north of 7 but an interesting 20/3 k/bb ratio in 14 innings.
  • Collins: the 2021 17th rounder ended last year in the Low-A rotation but now is getting stretched out a bit and the early returns are good: 20/3 K/BB in 12 innings, 3.55 ERA, 1.11 whip. I like that.

Its hard to tell if Low-A is doing a 6-man rotation or is throwing a 6th spot starter in all over the place. They also have Seijas in the pen who is throwing almost starter innings in relief (though not that effectively).

Next to get promoted? Theophile

Next to get demoted/released? Caceres.

What do I think happens next? there’s a couple guys sitting in XST who might profile here (Dyson, AHernandez, Stoeckinger if he’s still with the club at this point). But more likely the team shuffles around its long relievers to fill rotation spots if they need them until we start seeing the FCL team start to play and the 2022 draft take shape. We may end up with an SEC starter in the upper rounds who could go straight to low-A mid-season once the deck chairs start to shuffle. Until then, I can’t see anyone getting promoted, even Theophile, for another month at least.

Written by Todd Boss

May 3rd, 2022 at 10:40 am

7 Responses to 'Quick thoughts on the MLB and MiLB rotations one month in'

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  1. I really liked that Lara didn’t walk anyone (he did hit a batter) his last outing while piling up the Ks. He does need to limit hard contact, but he’s pitching fearlessly and pounding the zone, and some of those strikes are gonna get hit. I’m still high on him and I think he’ll learn (as you note, he’s just 19!) how to mix up his pitches and keep batters off-balance.

    Theophile piqued my interest before he’d thrown a single professional inning because the Nats initially assigned him to Low-A Hagerstown. He ended up pitching for the GCL Nats that year, which isn’t quite as prestigious as skipping complex ball altogether but is still noteworthy, given the Nats usually start their international prospects in the DSL. Looks like he’s finally doing something to justify that interest. I saw a bit of his last start and he certainly looks legit — big, physical pitcher built like Strasburg, with a pitching motion similar to Scherzer’s, easy-looking 94-95 fastball with a pretty good changeup.

    I didn’t think a ton of Gausch coming over from Oakland last summer, but he’s having a really nice start to the season and is worth monitoring. He just turned 24, so he’s about the right age for level (especially given the lost 2020 season is still affecting player development). Walks are still a concern.


    3 May 22 at 12:24 pm

  2. Cavalli had the weird start on Saturday where he threw 5.1 IP of no-hit ball, but he only struck out one and took 81 pitches to do it. Even with that big improvement in his H/9 (now 7.8), it’s still higher than his K/9 (6.8). There’s no doubt that Cavalli has talent, but he’s really been rushed/pushed up the ladder too quickly.

    But at least Cavalli is pitching. The first-round picks from 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016 (hitter) are all MIA. Of course we wish the first-round pick from 2014 (Fedde) wasn’t still pitching, but that’s another story. Fedde actually has had only one start where he’s really gotten bombed. He’s only surrendered two runs apiece in each of his three other outings, but all have been labored. In his one win, he took 96 pitches to get through five innings.

    I have never understood their fascination with Adon. He’s had one good start and four in which he and the team have gotten clobbered. He had a 4.97 ERA at the A+ level last season, his primary posting, giving up 8.0 hits per nine. There’s nothing indicating that he should have jumped to the majors.

    Not mentioned in Todd’s write-up is second-round pick Tim Cate, who has been demoted to A+ and got knocked around pretty good on Saturday.

    The good news thus far seems to be Henry and Irvin. No reason to push either of them, just keep them healthy. Parker and Evan Lee could be interesting if they’d throw more strikes. I still think Lee will end up in relief, and Parker may as well.


    3 May 22 at 2:48 pm

  3. You think Cavalli has been “rushed? I just can’t agree with that.

    – He was pitching in an elite conference college
    – He debuted in HighA, as many 1st round SEC/Big12/ACC players do, and completely dominated it. 1.77 ERA, .171 BAA, 71 Ks in 40 innings. You HAD to promote him.
    – He then dominated in AA as well. 11 starts, 2.79 ERA, 80/35 K/BB in 58 innings, a .188 BAA. Look again at those numbers; that’s in AA, where everyone’s best prospects are, and he mowed them down.

    You keep a player at a level until they’re not being challenged and they need to move up. Harper wasn’t “rushed,” Soto wasn’t “rushed.” Strasburg started at AA, dominated it in 5 starts, was moved up, dominated that too, so he was in the majors after a half minor league season.

    So maybe you could argue he was “rushed” at the end of last season to make four AAA starts … but he’s exactly where he would have been anyway after he owned AA.

    Todd Boss

    4 May 22 at 8:32 am

  4. Great stuff Todd.
    Joan Adon is being set up to fail, why not let him develop his skills in Rochester. Rogers and Espino are far better qualified for the rotation.

    Theophile looks like a gem, looking forward to see him in High A.

    Mark L

    4 May 22 at 9:21 am

  5. Fair enough about Cavalli, although he probably would have benefited from finishing 2021 at AA rather than getting clobbered at AAA. Three levels is a heck of a lot for one player in one season (other than Soto, and Cavalli ain’t in that class). There just seemed to be this big push to have him ready for the MLB rotation for 2022, which seemed overly aggressive. (Yet they have brought up Adon, who got clobbered at the levels where Cavalli dominated. Insanity.)

    It’s embarrassing that this organization that has invested an inordinate amount of draft capital in pitching is so pitching-poor. One gets the feeling that they wanted to point to Cavalli as an immediate success and hope we would forget Rutledge, Denaburg, Romero, Johannsen, Fedde, . . .

    I do think that Cavalli still has a much better prognosis than the others. What he’s run into is the same issue that concerned me from his college numbers when he was drafted — he gives up a lot of hits. That leads one to believe that he doesn’t have a lot of movement on his 99. And at AAA, you’re not going to just blow guys away. So he’s going to have to actually learn how to pitch to get guys out.


    4 May 22 at 10:31 am

  6. If Denaburg and Romero had worked out like a 1st rounder is expected to … we’d be having a different conversation about the state of our player development. but … they didn’t, and we havn’t really had a “win” in the latter rounds to make up for it.

    Adon will be back in AAA soon.

    Todd Boss

    4 May 22 at 4:18 pm

  7. Adon actually has only been in AAA for one game and AA for three. It’s mind-blowing that they thought he was ready for a jump to the majors. I’ll keep repeating that his ERA at A+ last season was 4.97. Another part of their rushing of him is that he’s about to burn his second option, so going into next year, only his age-24 season, he’ll only have one option left.

    Don’t get me wrong, it would be great for the Nats if he becomes something. But he’s never had spectacular numbers at any level. And most prospect lists have never had him rated particularly high.


    5 May 22 at 7:34 am

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