Nationals Arm Race

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Minor League Rotations: Mid-May Check-in

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Wil Crowe is the best starter in the system right now. PHoto via insidenova.com

Wil Crowe is the best starter in the system right now. PHoto via insidenova.com

Since its so depressing to talk about the train wreck that the Major League team is … lets look at the minor league pitching pipeline.

We last checked in a couple weeks into the season on 4/15/19, so we’re just about a month past that post.  Lets revisit where we are.


 

AAA/Fresno 2019

The rotation is: Voth, McGowin, Copeland, Espino, MSanchez.   Changes from last post: Alvarez got dumped to the bullpen thanks to his  8.20 ERA, Dragmire is on the D/L,  Ross got promoted to the needy MLB bullpen, and MSanchez was promoted up from AA to fill the rotation gap.

The Bullpen is: Rainey, Hoover, Self, Bacus, Nuno, JMills*, Blazek with Alvarez as long-man/spot starter.   Changes from last post: Adams was DFA’d and traded for Nick Wells, a Battlefield HS grad who now gets to play closer to home.  Cordero was also DFA’d and as of this writing sits in DFA limbo.  To replace them the team promoted JMills from AA and signed Blazek off the street a day before this writing.

Who’s hot:  McGowin has thrown 4 straight QS.  Voth remains the best AAA starter, keeping his ERA under 4.00 despite playing in the PCL.  Self and Bacus continue to perform well in their first AAA experiences.  I continue to be dumbfounded why Adams was DFA’d; here’s his AAA line this year for Fresno: 12.1 IP, 2.19 ERA, 0.89 Whip, 24/3 K/BB.  Yet the team (at the time) thought it was more important to keep Cordero on the roster.

Who’s not?  Dragmire may go straight to release waivers off the D/L (28 hits in 13 IP).  Mills does not look ready for AAA (13.50 ERA in 8 IP).  Neither does Mario Sanchez (13 hits in 7IP in 2 starts).

Who’s next guy to get the call?   Voth if they need a starter.  The only 40-man reliever left here is Rainey and he can’t find the plate (28ks and 12 walks in 16.2 innings).

Who’s next to get the Axe?   the JJ Hoover experiment may be over.  Both Mills and Sanchez probably should return to AA.  Dragmire continues to be in jeopardy of his roster spot when he gets healthy.


AA/Harrisburg 2019

Rotation: Crowe, Tetreault, Sharp, Mapes, Braymer*.  Changes from last time: Fedde got promoted to the MLB bullpen, replaced by the promoted Tetreault.

Bullpen: Bourque, Condra-Bogan, RPena, Guilbeau*, ABarrett with Baez, Ondrusek, Fuentes as swingmen/spot starters.  Changes from last time: Brinley on the D/L, JMIlls promoted, Ondrusek demoted from AAA’s D/L, Fuentes promoted up from High-A.

Who’s hot: Crowe remains the best AA starter and is probably now the best SP prospect in our system.  Bourque has a 29/5 K/BB ratio in 18 innings and its rather inexplicable that he a) remains in AA and b) has not yet gotten called into the MLB relief corps to alleviate the bullpen issues.  Tetreault has picked up right where he left off in High-A, with a 1.43 ERA through 3 AA starts and now has a 1.50 across 7 starts and two levels on the year.    Barrett continues to look solid and has MLB experience, so may be an option in the future.

Who’s not? Mapes has the worst ERA of the rotation, really the only starter  you can quibble with.  Pena and Guilbeau are struggling in the bullpen.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  Crowe, Bourque

Who’s next to get the Axe? Pena; the org has stuck by him a long, long time fora  16th round pick.  He’s 27 in AA and now in his 8th pro season here.  But an ERA in the 6s puts him on the chopping line when the next reliever needs to be promoted.


 

High-A/Potomac 2019

Rotation: Johnston, Borne*, Raquet*, ALee, MPena.  Changes from last time: Tetreault promoted, Reyes dumped to the pen after posting an ERA > 9.00.   Replaced in the rotation by Lee, who was bumped up from spot-starter/swingman.

bullpen:  Bogucki,  McKinney,  Bartow, JRomero, LReyes, German with Howard*,  Teel* as swingmen and (presumably) Nick Wells showing up soon.  Changes from last time: Acevedo released, Fuentes promoted, JRomero re-instated from XST, German and Teel promoted from Low-A.

Who’s hot:  I like what I see out of Lee in the rotation so far; he’s got the best ERA and peripherals of any High-A starter.   Teel and Bartow are the best relievers right now by stats, and Bartow has 2 of the 3 saves the staff has on the entire season (how is that possible?  In 14 victories they only have 3 saves.  that’s saying something).

Who’s not?  Raquet and Pena both have ERAs north of 7 in the rotation.  Nothing personal against Raquet, but I hated the draft pick at the time, and now he’s repeating high-A with the same crummy numbers and lack of swing and miss he exhibited there last year.  Every time I see him get shelled in a start its another indictment of that draft pick and that draft class in general.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  They’ve already promoted the two best arms (Tetreault and Fuentes).  No starters really pushing for a promotion right now.

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Bogucki is putting on > 2 runners an inning but was solid in High-A last year.  The fact that Reyes continues to have a roster spot astounds me: he is now in high-A for the 3rd year; he was also in High-A in  2016 and 2017, neither season of which merited his 2018 promotion to AA (where he got shelled).


Low-A/Hagerstown 2019

Rotation:  Alastre, Adon, Cate*, Irvin, FPeguero.  Changes from last time: Strom was demoted to XST, and the tandem starting seems to have been somewhat relaxed in that this set of 5 starters has rotated for several turns now.

Bullpen: Stoeckinger*, AGuillen, RWilliamson*, Tapani, Fletcher*, Day as swingmen/spot starters, along with Brasher, TTurner in the pen as more conventional relievers.  Changes from last time: Teel and German promoted, and RWilliamson and Tapani promoted from GCL/XST.

 

Who’s hot: Cate and Peguero, the two  starters I noted as being “hot” in the last post, remain the two best starters in Low-A.   Cate, a college Sr 2nd rounder last year, is probably too old for the level and needs to be moved up.  Fletcher, Stoeckinger and Guillen are pitching well in their “tandem” multi-inning roles.

Who’s not?  Irvin’s seasonal numbers are skewed by a 1ip/9-run outing, but he has the worst ERA in the rotation right now.  Brasher has gotten hit hard in limited action.  Alastre continues to not find the plate; he has 25 walks in 35 innings.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  Cate needs to move up stat.   Same with Peguero; he’s now 23 dominating Low-A.  Why are they still there?   Same with Fletcher; he’s now 23, was a senior sign and has 6 weeks of dominant numbers in low-A.  Why wait?

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Brasher seems most likely to be the next guy sent back to XST.


XST names of interest

  • Where is Istler?    He was solid in AA and even had some AAA time last year.  Still unassigned.
  • Where’s Jhon Romero?  He got assigned to High-A.
  • Pantoja? Still missing; may have been a “quiet” release.
  • No word yet about Seth Romero‘s rehab progress.
  • Since the last posting, the team officially assigned 5 guys to Low-A and put them directly on the DL: Barnett, WDavis, Howell, SRomero, Troop.  Barrett and WDavis were on the GCL team last year.  Howell and Troop were “missing” names from last year’s Low-A team now found, and of course Romero remains perhaps the worst 1st round pick this team has had since the Aaron Crow/Jim Bowden debacle.

 

Minor League Rotations: Good and Bad Starts

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Voth has looked pretty good so far. Photo mlb.com official

Voth has looked pretty good so far. Photo mlb.com official

We’re now a couple turns through the four full season minor league rotations and I thought i’d take a quick gander at what the “rotations” looked like, with some short sample size judgements as to who has come out of the gate hot or not from a stats perspective.  I have not seen any of these games, just looking at milb.com’s stat page.  So feel free to add in any personal opinions :-)


 

AAA/Fresno 2019

The rotation is looking like: McGowin, Copeland, Voth, Espino, Alvarez, with Dragmire as a spot-starter and Joe Ross having been yanked up to MLB bullpen duty (replaced by Alvarez).  Espino returns to the fold, having signed elsewhere as a MLFA a couple years back.

The Bullpen is looking like: AAdams, Rainey, Hoover, Nuno, Self, Cordero and Bacus (recently promoted to replace Austen Williams, himself promoted to cover for MLB injuries).

Who’s hot: Voth and McGowin have started well out of the rotation, Voth sporting a 16/1 K/BB ratio and McGowin 12/2.  I’m liking the first start from off-season signing Copeland too.   In the bullpen, Adams has 5 innings, 1 hit and 11 punch outs while Hoover has yet to give up a hit (though.. he’s walked 7 guys in 6 innings).

Who’s not?  Dragmire.  In three appearances so far, he’s pitched 9  2/3rds innings, given up 21 hits and only struck out 3 guys.   Ouch.  In the bullpen, both Rainey and Hoover have more walks than Ks so far.

Who’s next guy to get the call?   Honestly, it might be time to give Adams another shot.  His numbers merited the promotion moreso than Williams (who has the highest ERA in Fresno).  Next time there’s a spot start you have to think Voth is putting his name first in line.

Who’s getting the Axe?  Dragmire seems to be in trouble; he’s a MLFA re-signing so I can’t imagine the team has much invested in him, especially now that Alvarez and Espino are in the AAA rotation.


 

AA/Harrisburg 2019

Rotation: Crowe, Fedde, Sharp, Mapes, Braymer*, with  swingman/spot starts by Baez and MSanchez (who we get back after having flipped him for Jimmy Cordero on the AAA squad).

Bullpen: Bourque,  Brinley, Condra-Bogan, JMills*, RPena,  Guilbeau*, ABarrett (Bacus already promoted).  Great to see Barrett back here and hope he can re-contribute at the MLB level.

Who’s hot: Crowe and Fedde in the rotation: Crowe’s given up just 6 baserunners in his first two starts, Fedde just 7.  Mapes has an 11/1 K/BB ratio in his two starts.  In the bullpen, Barrett and Condra-Bogan have been solid.

Who’s not?  Sterling Sharp has a 6.30 ERA through 2 starts.  Bourque and Gilbeau have elevated whips but they’ve only thrown a handful of innings.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  I think Crowe may merit a promotion to AAA if he keeps this up for the rest of the month, perhaps to cover for injury or if one of our veteran guys exercises an opt-out.   We know Fedde is staying put to serve as the Nats 6th starter.

Who’s next to get the Axe?   Nobody really; Sharp has the highest ERA but he’s a solid prospect who is in AA at age 23.  We may have to keep an eye on Guilbeau; 2019 is his make-or-break season after two successive full seasons in high-A.


High-A/Potomac 2019

Rotation:  Johnston, Borne*, Tetreault, Raquet*, MPena, LReyes with swingman/spot starts by Howard*,  ALee,

bullpen:  Acevedo, Bogucki, Fuentes,   McKinney,  Bartow,

Who’s hot: Tetreault and perhaps Malvin Pena in the rotation, McKinney & Fuentes in the bullpen.

Who’s not?  Reyes’ first start was not good.   Bourne’s sporting a 2.31 whip so far.  And Howard has given up 12 hits in 6 IP.

Who’s next guy to get the call?  Nobody really screaming for a promotion so far; if you had to pick one of each i’d go with Tetrault and Fuentes (who is just 21 but has started great).

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Reyes struggled last year in AA; if he can’t get guys out this year in High-A he’s not long for the league.  Borne missed all of 2018 but is repeating a level and is now 25; its put up or shut up time.


Low-A/Hagerstown 2019

Rotation:  Alastre/Day, Adon, Cate*/Tapani, Irvin/Teel*, FPeguero/AGuillen, Strom/Stoeckinger*

bullpen:   German,  Fletcher*

Lots of “tandem” starting going on, though the roles seem to have settled into the “starter” going 4-5 and the tandem guy typically going 2-3.  So its likely at some point the tandem guys either move into starters or purely bullpen roles.

Who’s hot: Peguero and Cate.  Peguero has 10/1 K/BB in 10 IP while Cate has struck out 12 in 9.   Both the “relievers” in Hagerstown have been solid: German sporting 8 Ks and a 0.75 whip in 4 games, and Fletcher an even better 0.53 whip in 3 outings.

Who’s not? Alastre; the opening day starter has 11 walks and 12 hits given up in his 12 IP of work.  Adon’s first start was a struggle; he’ll get another crack at it tonight before passing too much judgement.

Who’s next guy to get the call? I’d promote Peguero and Fletcher first from each group.

Who’s next to get the Axe?  Alastre is only 20, but is repeating low-A with similar results to last  year.


 

XST names of interest

  • Where is Istler?    He was solid in AA and even had some AAA time last year
  • Where’s Jhon Romero?
  • Pantoja?  I wonder if he’s been released as a 25yr old and we just havn’t seen it updated on milb.com yet.

Solis out; what does this mean for MLB bullpen?

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Solis and the Nats part ways. Photo: natsinsider blog

Solis and the Nats part ways. Photo: natsinsider blog

As many expected, Sammy Solis was cut loose on 3/10/19, given his unconditional release.  Solis was a very long-serving player for this team, a 2nd round pick in 2010, and for a time was a very valuable lefty option out of the MLB bullpen.  But his 2018 struggles led many to believe he’d be non-tendered last fall, and more to believe that he had basically a 3 week try-out this spring.

It was this last scenario that led us to this point; This was a key cut-off point for cutting players and only being responsible for 1/6th of the agreed-upon salary.  So Solis departs with a $147k check for his time and faces a tough future.  He’s a tough sell to put on the 40-man roster b/c of his lack of minor league options, but should have no issues getting a MLFA deal and go pitch out of someone’s AAA team to try to re-establish his ability to get lefties out (which left him for some reason in 2018).

So, ripple effects on the Nat’s bullpen.

Here’s  the bullpen I predicted we’d go with at the beginning of spring training.

  • Closer: Doolittle
  • Setup: Rosenthal, Barraclough
  • RH middle: JMiller, Suero, Glover
  • LH Middle; Grace

other 40-man options in camp: Rainey, AAdams, AWilliams, Cordero, Bourque

Primary non-40man candidates to discuss: Nuno, Copeland

But,  there’s been some developments.

  • Glover has been hurt; he’s thrown just a third of an inning so far, and seems more and more likely to be hitting the D/L.
  • Miller has thrown just two innings … also struggling with injury.
  • Joe Ross, our supposed 6th starter … has yet to start a game.  But he’s looked pretty darn good in relief.  Is he angling to make the team in a longer relief role?  It may also be meaningless; Voth and McGowin also aren’t starting a ton of games in MLB camp and are expected to be the bulk of the AAA roster.
  • MLFA Scott Copeland has looked excellent and may be pushing for a 25-man spot if Miller/Glover start on the D/L.
  • Tanner Rainey has gotten shelled, and for all we’ve heard about his arm, has zero Ks.
  • Vidal Nuno seems to be the most likely person to benefit from the Solis release; who else in camp is a lefty reliever?
  • J.J. Hoover is still out there too as a veteran MLFA who may get some opportunities based on past track record.
  • Only Miller and Grace now remain without Options … but both seem nearly guaranteed to make the team (or the D/L).
  • As noted elsewhere, Austen Williams has been great … can he make the team?
  • We do have a free 40-man spot for the taking.

One other note.  Not that we’re talking about starters right now … and yes I know you’re supposed to ignore spring training stats, but you just cannot ignore what’s going on with Erick Fedde.  7 innings … SIXTEEN hits allowed to go along with five walks.  That’s nearly a 3.00 whip.  Is it time to pull the plug on the Fedde-as-starter experiment?  Is he better served throwing in relief?

If I had to predict the bullpen today?

  • Closer: Doolittle
  • Setup: Rosenthal, Barraclough
  • RH middle: Suero, Copeland
  • LH Middle; Grace, Nuno
  • D/L: Miller, Glover

What is your reading of the ST bullpen tea leaves this week?

Spring Training 2019 NRI Discussion

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Kieboom is probably the surest NRI thing in 2019. Photo via PerfectGame

Kieboom is probably the surest NRI thing in 2019. Photo via PerfectGame

The Nationals, on the eve of spring training, announced their list of Non-Roster Invitees (NRIs) for 2019.

Here’s the list:

  • RHP — Henderson Alvarez, Aaron Barrett, Scott Copeland, Wil Crowe, J.J. Hoover, Ronald Peña
  • LHP — Vidal Nuño
  • C —Tres Barrera, Taylor Gushue
  • INF —Luis Garcia , Carter Kieboom, Jose Marmolejos, Jake Noll, Matt Reynolds, Brandon Snyder, Jacob Wilson
  • OF — Hunter Jones, Chuck Taylor

Now, before you say “who cares” here’s some stats.  In the last four seasons:

  • 5 NRIs made the 25-man roster straight out of Spring Training (and Guthrie technically made it 6 since he got called up a few days later and was always intended to be the 5th starter in 2017)
  • 18 NRIs eventually played for the MLB team at some point that same season.

So its likely that we’re going to see these NRIs at some point in the future.  Like, on average at least 4-5 of these NRIs are going to play for this team in 2019.

So lets squint and make some predictions.

  1. Do any of these guys stand a chance at making the Opening day roster?  Yeah maybe.  I think a couple of the relievers (especially Nuno) have a real shot at the bullpen if they perform in Florida.  Three of the seven guys I’m projecting to the MLB bullpen have options remaining (Barraclough, Suero and Glover), the team only really has one legit lefty in the pen (Grace) and may end up carrying 8 relievers through some roster chicanery early on.
  2. Do any of these guys project to feature at all in 2019?  Absolutely: I think Alvarez, Hoover, Nuno, Reynolds, and Snyder in particular seem likely to get call-ups to cover for injury, unless they exercise opt-outs.  Reynolds is one of the few SS capable guys in the high minors, Snyder could be Zimmerman or Adams injury coverage, and Alvarez could get the call to provide spot starts if in-house options like Fedde continue to struggle at the MLB level.
  3. Who among these guys project to eventually get on the 40-man?  The top-end prospects on this list for sure: Crowe, Garcia, Kieboom, Barrera and perhaps Gushue all seem likely to eventually make the 40-man.

 


NRI Details by year, in case you were wondering…

Summary of NRIs from ST 2018: 21 NRIs total:

  • One (1) made the 25-man roster out of spring: Miguel Montero
  • Four (4) eventually got added and called up:  Tim Collins, Moises Sierra, Jimmy Cordero, Spencer Kieboom.  Special Mention to Edwin Jackson, who opted out of Washington then excelled for Oakland later in 2018).
  • Zero (0) others have since been added to 40-man

Summary of NRIs from ST 2017: 24 NRIs total:

  • Zero (0) made the 25-man roster out of spring (though technically one kinda was; see next).
  • Five (5) eventually got added and called up (Jeremy Guthrie, Matt Albers, Grant Green, Jacob Turner and Andrew Stevenson): Guthrie was the 5th starter, stashed in XST for a few days before his ill-fated debut.
  • Five (5) have since been added to 40-man (Erick Fedde, Taylor Hill, Kyle McGowin, Wander Suero, Tim Collins)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2016: 20 NRIs total (plus perhaps a couple more that got signed late):

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster: (Chris Heisey and as noted in the comments, thanks for the correction, Matt Belisle).
  • Two (2) eventually got added and called up (Lucas Giolito, Sean Burnett)
  • Two (2) have since been added to 40-man (Matt Skole, Austin Voth)

Summary of NRIs from ST 2015: 20 NRIs total:

  • Two (2) made the 25-man roster out of spring (Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson)
  • Two (2) others eventually got added and called up (Rafael Martin and Emmanuel Burriss)
  • Two (2) others were young catchers since added to the 40-man (Spencer Kieboom, Pedro Severino)

(I believe the above analysis is correct; feel free to comment if i’ve missed someone.  this is a bit tougher to keep track of b/c the team often signs MLFAs mid-spring then technically gives them NRIs … especially for Vets, and I may miss some from the original announcements).

 

Ask Collier 2/1/19

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Taylors days may be numbered. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

Taylors days may be numbered. (AP Photo/Nick Wass via nbcsports.com)

Another week passing with barely any FA movement, and another set of questions taken by Jamal Collier.

Big Nats news of the week seems to be the team beating Michael A. Taylor in arbitration … over $250k.   That’s 1/10th of 1% of their team payroll, for context.  I *hate* it when teams go to arbitration battle with their players; by all accounts the team basically trashes the player in the presentation, making all the arguments about why they’re NOT worth the salary.  I think it completely poisons the relationship between player and management.  The Nats under prior management used to do this constantly; they were among the league leaders for  years in arbitration cases.  This is the 5th arb case that I believe Mike Rizzo has argued in the 10 years he’s been in charge.  Here’s the previous cases the team has argued:

  • 2006: Alfonso Soriano.  After acquiring him they immediately went to war with him … which was only a precursor to the Spring Training war, basically forcing him to play the OF.   Great way to treat your team’s best player.  Asked for $12M, got #10M when the club beat him, and he left via FA after the season.
  • 2007: Chad Cordero: Cordero beat the Nats in Arb over $500k difference.  The team and player were able to come to a pre-arb agreement in 2008 but Cordero’s days were numbered.
  • 2007 John Patterson: The team and Patterson were way, way off (1.8M vers 1M); the club won, then releaesd Patterson before the season had even started.
  • 2008: Felipe Lopez: the club beat Lopez over $300k … then released him mid-season.
  • 2009: Shawn Hill; went to battle again over $275k … then released him in the spring before they had to pay a dime.
  • 2010: Sean Burnett: went to battle over $150k.  That’s right: 150,000, one of the smallest argument values I can find in the last decade.  Club won.
  • 2010: Brian Bruney: just after acquiring the guy (similar to this year’s Kyle Barraclough situation) they immediately argued against him in arbitration and won.  Bruney never contributed in a meaningful way and the team cut him loose in May.  I thought at the time he was suffering from a “Bruised Ego” as the source of his crummy performance, but he didn’t pitch any better the next year for the White Sox and was soon out of the league.
  • 2012: John Lannan, who the club beat to only pay him $5M versus $5.7M … then immediately relegated him to AAA for most of the season.  He made 33 starts for Washington in 2011 … then 24 starts for Syracuse in 2012.  What an insult.  Unsurprisingly, he was non-tendered before the 2013 season.
  • 2015: Jerry Blevins, who beat the team for $200k … and was then dumped in trade a few weeks later in what I read at the time (and still believe) as an act of petulance from Rizzo.

We havn’t had an arb hearing since the 2015 debacle.  But now it seems like the team will battle not once but twice.

Of these 10 hearings (including the Taylor hearing): here’s some interesting stats:

  • Club has won 7 of the 10 hearings
  • Seven of the Nine players that went to arbitration were GONE from the team (one way or another) that same season.   Most of them cut either in spring training or quickly there-after.

So, it doesn’t bode well for Taylor or Barraclough’s future the fact that they’re arguing against the team.

Lets get to the questions.

Q: How are the Nationals matching up against the rest of the division this 2019 season?

A: What, you can’t read the papers?  Here’s the summary:

  • Nats have filled every hole they had and spent more than 14 other teams combined this off-season.  They’ve conservatively added 10-12 “wins” and are projecting on Fangraphs to win the division.
  • Braves have grown a very solid core and did a little FA work on the edges, but have no reason not to repeat what they did last year.  They’re only projecting to a $122M payroll, and that’s AFTER signing Josh Donaldson to a $23M one year deal.
  • Phillies have signed a couple guys, but already had a fully formed rotation and still have $50M of room.  But they could still land one of the two big FAs and improve quickly.
  • Mets have made some odd choices (acquiring Robinson Cano), have a ton of payroll just to Cano and Cespedes, and have completely re-made their bullpen.  Are they contenders?
  • Marlins continue to be a dumpster fire, projecting to spend just $84M in 2019.

So i’m predicting Nats win division, Braves to WC, Phillies just miss out but still win 88 games, Mets go about .500 and Marlins lose 105 games.  Its going to be the most competitive division in the game.

Collier predicts a competitive division with four teams actually trying.  That’s refreshing.

Q: What are the Nationals’ needs? Do they need left-handed bullpen help and maybe a utility player?

A: In an ideal situation sure they’d love more Lefty bullpen options.  But they’re kinda out of cash.  They could also use rotation insurance, but looking at the list of starters still available (nearly 20 who had MLB starts last year, several of whom could improve nearly any rotation in the game) I doubt we’ll be able to spin a MLB deal for any of them.

Collier agrees, thinks the bench is fine.

Q: I would rather have another pitcher like Dallas Keuchel or even Wade Miley, and let Harper go. What do you think?

A: well, this guy clearly missed the news, b/c Miley is already gone (to Houston, improving them to be at least a top 10 rotation now if not slightly better).  But this asker also clearly doesn’t know just how close to the luxury tax the team is.

If you’re going to go over … then frigging go over.  Sign Keuchel, sign another loogy, blow past the cap by $20M, Sign Harper, blow payes st it by $50M.  It seemed to do pretty well for Boston last year.

I don’t think there’s a team in the league that wouldn’t like having Keuchel in the fold (maybe the Cubs or Indians); certainly Keuchel would be an upgrade over Joe Ross for us.

All this being said … the tea leaves say one thing to me pretty clearly; Harper is gone, the team has already moved on.  Is this even a discusCollsion?

Collier notes they’re about $11M under the cap, have indicated pretty frequently they intend to stay below it, and 

Q: With the injury history regarding Stephen StrasburgPatrick Corbin and Ross, is it possible there will be a six-man rotation instead of five?

A: So, on the one hand its true that no team can go 162 games without having to rely on additional starters…. but it’d be stupid to go to a 6-man rotation with a bunch of veterans like what the Nats are projecting.  This isn’t high school; these guys are trained professionals, highly paid, and are conditioned to pitch ever 5 days.

What is true is this: our 6th, 7th and 8th depth chart starters WILL get starts.  So while it’d be awesome to have a ton of depth … you have to store it somewhere.  So project Erick Fedde and Austin Voth and some veteran 35-yr old MLFA  hanging on for one more shot to contribute in 2019.

Collier says the same thing about routines.

Q; Any word yet on non-roster invitees to Spring Training? 

A: Yes; there’s going to be a few of them.  Some of them will look great.  A couple will stick around.  In fact, we do an annual post here every year about NRIs who make it.  Here was 2018s http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=15657 and 2017’s: http://www.nationalsarmrace.com/?p=13409 .

Last year, 1 NRI made the team out of spring, another 4 played for the team in the 2018 season, and Edwin Jackson was an NRI for us and excelled for Oakland.

So, NRIs are important.

Collier notes a couple of specific NRI arms who may very well be options to make the bullpen at the expense of someone like Sammy Solis.

2018 Non-Tender Decisions

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Roark is the big decision the team faces. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Roark is the big decision the team faces. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via wp.com

Its that time of the year as noted.  Lets get right to it.

Nats have 7 arbitration-eligible players.   Four of them are no-brainers to tender and negotiate with in Arbitration.  2019 salary guesses are MLBtraderumor estimates that are now pretty well accepted as the best analysis estimates out there.  I feel like the Nats are a bit generous and usually end up paying slightly more than their estimates, but these will work for now.

Arbitration Eligible Player2018 salary/contract2019 estimate
Rendon, Anthony1 yr/$12.3M (18)$17.6M
Turner, Trea1 yr/$0.5772M (18)$5.3M
Ross, Joe1 yr/$0.5679M (18)1.5M
Barraclough, Kyle1yr/$1.9M (18)$1.9M

Joe Ross at $1.5M could be an absolute steal and could be a factor in consideration for Tanner Roark‘s decision later on.  If Ross returns to his 2016 form for this salary we’ll be in great shape for next year’s playoff race.  Rendon and Turner are obvious players to continue with, and/or to consider some longer term contract negotiations with.  Lastly, the team just traded for Barraclough, he’s relatively affordable, and will be a key arm in the 2019 bullpen, so he’s not going anywhere.

Lets talk about the more iffy candidates:

Arbitration Eligible Player2018 salary/contract2019 estimate
Roark, Tanner1 yr/$6.475M (18)$9.8M
Taylor, Michael1 yr/$2.525M (18)$3.2M
Solis, Sammy1 yr/$0.5603M (18)$900k

First, i’ll just say this: I feel like the team is going to tender Michael A Taylor  He’s got too much value  as a defender, his projected salary in the $3.2M range is going to be better than projections for similar outfielders on the market … but he’s 27 not 33, plays Gold Glove-calibre defense and has shown some flashes of capability at the plate.  I think he makes perfect sense as a 4th outfielder.

I also don’t think i’m going out on a limb saying that its likey that Sammy Solis has thrown his last pitch for the team.  He was patently awful in 2018, couldn’t get lefties out at all, and even though his projected salary is a pittance ($900k), his big limiting factor is his lack of options.  He burned his last minor league option in 2018, so if he can’t make the team he’s gonna get DFA’d anyway.  Might as well get it out of the way now and clear the roster spot.

So, lets get to the main discussion item.  What to do with Tanner Roark?  He’s projecting to a $9.8M salary in his last year of Arbitration.  That’s a hefty sum.  He was fantastic as a starter for this team in 2014 and 2016.  He struggled when the team jerked around his role in 2015.  And the last two seasons he’s essentially been a just-slightly-worse-than-average MLB starter.  Sounds like a classic 4th starter type.  So is a 4th starter worth $9.8M?

He’s not getting any younger; he’ll be playing in his age 32 season next year.  He’s trending the wrong way; you can easily make the argument that the odds of him being more 2018 next year than 2016 are high.

So the real question is this: can you replace him in the trade market or in Free Agency and find someone comparable?   There havn’t been many signings thus far to use as a barometer for this off-season, but one stuck out in my mind; CC Sabathia.  Sabathia is older, fatter, and better.  And he signed for $8M.  All the projections for 4th/5th starter types seem to be falling in the $6M AAV range.

Unfortunately for the team; they’ve basically shredded the top of their starting pitcher prospect ranks in trades lately so they have no real options for internal replacement here.  If you non-tender Roark, then w/o additional acquisitions your 2019 Rotation is:

  • Scherzer, Strasburg, Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Jefry Rodriguez with Austin Voth and Kyle McGowin in AAA.

That’s two aces and 5 question marks.  TJ surgery recovery rates are now in the 80% I believe … but Ross won’t be throwing more than 160 innings or so in 2019.  Does anyone here Fedde is ready to be anything other than a spot-starter?  Same with the others.  The Nats are already looking at buying at least 2 starters on the open market (to replace Gio Gonzalez and to compete for 5th starter in a Jeremy Hellickson– type signing).  If you cut Roark loose … you have to buy another starter.  (or trade for one of course … but at this point does anyone have the stomach to part with any more top prospects?)

So if you non-tender Roark, you lose a guy who has never gotten hurt, answers the bell, eats innings and can be pretty dominant.  Isn’t that what you want in a solid 4th starter?   What are you going to get on the FA market for that price that’s better?

If it were me, i’d tender him.

Prediction: only Solis is non-tendered.

Actual tender results for 2018:  all arb-eligible players tendered.  Solis (the one we thought was in most jeopardy) negotiated a contract ahead of time.  1 yr, $850k so just slightly below MLBtraderumor’s estimate.  If he flails in spring training the Nats can cut him in mid March for just 1/6th of $850k or just $141k guaranteed.  Not a bad deal.

 


Here’s a great history of the Nats non-tender deadline decisions over the years, research I first did for last year’s post and which I’ll keep carrying forward.

  • 2018: no-one non-tendered (Roark, Taylor, Solis all candidates in one form or another).  Solis negotiated a contract pre-deadline leading to his tender.
  • 2017: No non-tender candidates; all arb-eligible players tendered contracts at the deadline.
  • 2016: we non-tendered Ben Revere, waived Aaron Barrett before having to make the NT decision, and declined Yusmeiro Petit‘s option as a way of “non-tendering” him.
  • 2015: we non-tendered Craig Stammen, but kept NT candidates Jose Lobaton and Tyler Moore (eventually trading Moore after waiving him at the end of spring training).
  • 2014: we did not non-tender anyone, though a couple weeks later traded NT candidate Ross Detwiler to Texas for two guys who never really panned out for us (Chris Bostick and Abel de los Santos).
  • 2013: we did not non-tender anyone, only Ross Ohlendorf was a candidate, and in retrospect he probably should have been NT’d since he didn’t throw a pitch for the Nationals in 2014.
  • 2012: we non-tendered three guys (Jesus FloresTom Gorzelanny, John Lannan) in the face of a huge amount of arbitration players (10).
  • 2011: we non-tendered Doug Slaten deservedly, but tendered candidate Gorzellany.
  • 2010: we non-tendered Chien-Ming WangWil Nieves, Joel Peralta.  We also outrighted 5 guys prior to the NT deadline, DFA’d two more in December, and DFA/dreleased four more guys prior to Spring training in a very busy off-season.
  • 2009: we non-tendered Scott Olsen, Mike MacDougal
  • 2008: we non-tendered Tim Redding, now the Pitching coach for our Auburn Short-A team, so I guess there was no hard feelings there :-)
  • 2007: we non-tendered Nook LoganMike O’Conner.
  • 2006: we non-tendered or declined options for Ryan Drese, Brian Lawrence, Zach Day (it might have only been Day who was officially non-tendered)
  • 2005: we non-tendered Carlos BaergaPreston WilsonJunior Spivey.

 

Strasburg to DL again; is this the official white flag?

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"My Neck hurts." "Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake." -- photo via WP

“My Neck hurts.” “Oh yeah, something always frigging hurts with you, you snowflake.” — photo via WP

At some point, you have to stop performing CPR and just call it.

I wonder if we’re at that point.  Today we learned that #2 starter Stephen “the Orchid” Strasburg is heading back to the D/L for what will be his 50th* career D/L trip (* estimated).  I just don’t see how this team goes on the run it needs without one of its best starters.

Even given Tanner Roark‘s wonderful start yesterday, the team (as of this writing) sits at 50-51.  They’re 7 games out of the Division lead, 5.5 games out of the WC, and face a massive uphill climb to make the playoffs.

To get to 90 wins (often regarded in the 2-wild card system as the minimum you’ll need) the team needs to go 40-21 in its remaining games.  That’s a .622 W/L percentage.  I suppose they could go on a 20-7 rampage like they did in May and make it up… but it seems less likely the longer this season goes along.

Of their remaining 61 games…

  • 7 against Atlanta
  • 9 against Philly
  • 7 against the Cubs
  • 7 against the Cardinals
  • 3 more against Milwaukee
  • 3 in Colorado to end the season

So that’s 36 of the remaining 61 games against teams that I think are patently better than us.  And we’ll have to play .622 ball against them AND hold serve against the scrubs we’re playing too.

Oh, and now we’re doing it with, by my count, our #9 starter in Tommy Milone called up.  Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio, Roark, Hellickson, Fedde, JRodriguez, Voth ahead of him in the pecking order.  I’m sure things will go great; lest you forget, Milone’s ERA in 2017 was 8.56 in 27 innings.  Actually, with an ERA like that, he’ll fit right into this team.

So yes, the Braves have scuffled recently and the Phillies are treading water.  And yes our Pythag record shows we’re better than 50-51.  All fair points.  But we’re nearly to August and are still playing .500 ball, with no signs of getting better.

And, as become apparent this week, thanks to the Nats doing such a bang-up job with payroll management this year, they snuck over the luxury tax threshold so the comp pick they’ll get for a once-in-a-generation player leaving next year via FA in Bryce Harper will be … voila!  A supplemental 4th rounder??  Are you frigging kidding me?  That’s all we’ll get by offering him a Qualifying Offer??  Wow, that Matt Wieters contract just keeps looking better and better doesn’t it?  I sure hope Scott Boras enjoys the boat he bought off of that commission that he screwed the Nats out of.  Can someone change the Lerner’s cell phone number so Boras can’t go over Mike Rizzo‘s head to make bad deals any more?

Nats should trade Harper and hope to get a MLB top 100 pick for the rental.  They should also shop around basically every other guy set to leave in FA.  That means Murphy, Gio, Madsen, Wieters, Kelley, heck lets through in Benoit and Reynolds and Adams and all the one-year MLFAs we’ve got too.   Its bargain basement shopping time in DC.  First come, first served.

Will this leadership team admit defeat and make these trades?  Probably not.  They’ll probably do something dumb in the next few days like trade a top prospect for 2 months of a dead-arm starter or a catcher we can just go buy next off-season with the $80M of saved payroll.   They’ll leverage the farm system yet again so they can be an 86 win team instead of an 81 win team.

But I could be wrong.  We’ll see what happens.

ps: I managed to write this whole post without mentioning the manager.  My stance is as clear now as it was the day they let Dusty Baker go, and nothing that Dave Martinez has done has made me think that he was in any way a better choice to manage this team and this set of players in the year 2018.  Any argument about the manager is tough to quantify … i prefer arguments I can back up with stats frankly, so my opinion on his handling of veterans, of Ryan Zimmerman, of the bullpen, of baserunning strategy, of lineup-construction, and of his seeming inability to stand up to the veterans on this team will stay with me.

Nats Pitching depth to now be tested…

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It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

It sounds like its Fedde-time. Photo via minorleagueball.com

Well, we can’t really seem to go a season without a Stephen Strasburg injury … and this annual affair hit us over the weekend, with Strasburg looking ineffective, getting pulled, going for an MRI and quickly hitting the 10-day D/L with “right shoulder inflammation.”

This comes on the quick heels of two other SP issues for this team:

  • miracle MLFA off-season signing Jeremy Hellickson yanking his hamstring and exiting precisely one batter into his friday start, also hitting the D/L.
  • Off-season SP depth re-signing Edwin Jackson opting out of his minor league deal and departing the team (he signed with Oakland soon after).

So, it seemed like we could stand the absence of Hellickson thanks to the schedule over the next week and a half (plenty of off-days and no need for a 5th starter), and since his injury is listed as “mild” meaning he may only miss the minimum time … but with the loss of Strasburg we’ll need to reach into our depth.  So who’s getting the call?

(oh, btw on top of this, on 6/9/18 Brandon Knitzler strained his forearm and seems likely to be at least unavailable for a bit, if not on his way to the D/L too, so they’re needing reinforcements stat.  He was officially put on the D/L just after posting this on 6/10/18, resulting in both Trevor Gott and Wander Suero getting their tickets for a DC return…).

We’ve now seen all three of our non-active roster 40-man starters get MLB action this year … and they looked promising enough to have the loss of Jackson or even the presence of Tommy Milone in AAA seem like after-thoughts.  So who gets the call to cover for Strasburg?  Options:

  1. Erick Fedde: got one spot-start this year and looked solid: he gave up 3 runs in 5 2/3rds but pitched a lot better than his stat line.  He hasn’t looked as great for Syracuse; a 4.76 ERA and a 1.48 whip showing how he’s giving up too many base-runners.  Do you believe what you saw in the majors, or look at his AAA line for the year?  His most recent start: in Gwinnet, 5 1/3, 2runs, 9Ks but 10hits allowed.
  2. Austin Voth: has turned his career around, going from “next guy to get DFA’d” to a MLB call-up earlier this year (he did not appear).  His AAA ERA of 4.35 is a bit inflated; he’s giving up less than a hit/inning.  He had two bad outings in a row just after his call up/send-back, giving up 12 ER in 2 innings … but his last out ing (6/6/18) was stellar; 7IP, 4hits, 6Ks, 0 walks, 0 runs.  That’s the kind of stat line GMs like to see.
  3. Jefry Rodriguez: he was thrown into action when Hellickson went down and did awesome: 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his MLB debut.  Can’t ask for more than that.  He’s been good for AA Harrisburg this year; 12 starts, 3.57ERA, a bit wild though (24 walks in 63 innings).  Its interesting that he’s gotten MLB time but has yet to get pushed to AAA; perhaps they’re waiting for the typical Nats mid-season shuffle.  His most recent outing?  6/9/18: 5ip, 1 hit and just 65 pitches thrown (a hint?  why would he have gotten  yanked so quickly?)

You have to think it’ll be Fedde first.  Maybe what they do is promote Fedde, move Rodriguez to AAA.  Then if you need a second starter … it seems like Rodriguez has jumped Voth in the pecking order and is next in line.

It isn’t a very opportune time for this sudden loss of their second ace; their next nine games are AL East interleague play … which will be tough games even though both Toronto and Baltimore are struggling.  After that they get 6 games versus Philly interspersed with five more AL East games (including three at home against Boston) … so this might be a pretty crucial stage for this team.  Lets hope our depth stands up.

Minor League Staffs – one month check-in

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

Voth has completely remade his career in less than a month. Photo mlb.com 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: http://web.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&cid=552&stn=true&sid=t552)

  • 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 = http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=547)

  • 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



Potomac

(stats link: http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=436)

  • 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 = http://www.milb.com/milb/stats/stats.jsp?t=t_ibp&did=milb&cid=563

  • 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?

Nats 2018 #5 Starter competition

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Is Cole the 2018 5th starter?  Photo AP

Is Cole the 2018 5th starter? Photo AP

Interesting news on 1/11/18: Edwin Jackson has re-signed a split minor league deal  with decent compensation if he makes the major league team ($1.5M plus another $1.4M in incentives).

Lots of rumors about the team eventually buying a more established 5th starter, either on the open market or in trade.  There’s too many names still out there to even begin to discuss, from marquee 8-figure free agents (Yu Darvish) to Nats-favorite Scott Boras clients he’s likely to go over Rizzo’s head about (Jake Arrieta) to trade candidates from rebuilding teams (Tampa, Miami, Pittsburgh and their  valuable arms like Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer, though inbetween the time I started this post and published it, Cole had already been traded to the keep-getting-richer Astros).  Bur for now, we don’t have any of these guys … so we’re still projected for a fun spring training competition.

So, what does the #5 starter competition look like right now?  Basically there’s four primary candidates now in-house and signed for 2018.  Lets rank them in likely order of winning the job:

#1: A.J. Cole

I think right now Cole has the inside track, even given the Milone and Jackson signings.  Cole’s 2018 numbers were decent at the MLB level: 3-5 with a 3.81 ERA even if his periperhals were bad (5.88 fip, 1.50 whip).  His AAA numbers in 2017 were awful (5.88 ERA in 18 starts), but then again the entire Syracuse rotation was awful in 2018.  But, he did show some promise last  year and he’s out of options, so I can’t help but think that he’ll get a shot to stick on the MLB roster until he proves he’s either staying or going one last time.

#2 : Edwin Jackson:

He made an ok case for the job based on what he was able to do last  year.   No, he wasn’t awesome: in 13 starts he was 5-6 with a 5.07 ERA and even worse peripherals (5.88 FIP, 1.4 whip).  That’s about what he did for San Diego in 2016, so It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.   But he’s a known quantity, he throws hard, he never gets hurt.  He also clearly will work in the minors to get another shot at the majors and didn’t sign back up with this team on a whim, so odds are he could get stashed in Syracuse for a bit and wait out his chance.

#3 Tommy Milone: the prodigal son returns to the fold.  Initially sent away in the Gio Gonzalez trade 7 years ago, he pitched well for both Oakland and Minnesota before falling off a cliff in 2016.  His 2017 was not pretty: a combined 7.63 ERA for two different teams.  He also signed a minor league deal that I suspect may have an opt-out if he fails to make the team.  Hopefully not; he did log some AAA time in the last two seasons and may also opt to stick around.  Is it possible he returns to his career form (a 4.37 ERA and a 91 ERA+ figure)?  Maybe; he’d have to do a lot better though to make his case for t he 5th starter.

#4: Erick Fedde; our top starting pitcher prospect and sole arm in AAA or AA (or perhaps even  high-A at this point) which represents a significant draft investment (outside of Mariano Rivera Jr that is … who is already a reliever).  And he did not look ready in his debut last fall.  3 starts. 9.39 ERA … even if two of those starts were against tough competition (home to Colorado, then away vs the Cubs).  Short Sample Size, yadda-yadda, he got knocked around.  He needs more AAA time and you’d have to think he’s starting the year either in XST (if its too cold in Syracuse) or in upstate NY.


So, what about our minor league depth past these four guys?  Honestly: there’s not a ton of depth we can count on in AAA or AA.  The 40-man names are Fedde, Cole, Voth and Jefry Rodriguez.  That’s it.

Here’s a quick glance at our other minor league starters out there who are more likely to be AA or AAA fodder (in rough order of their consideration for the job/likely 2018 assignments)

AAA projected rotation (over-top of those four names above who miss out and who don’t opt out, that is):

  • Jared Long (he may or may not be a MLFA still; rosterresource.com shows him on the Nats roster but milb.com shows him as a FA): if he’s still with us, he showed two years running he was better than AA.  I’d like to see him with a long run in AAA to see if he’s a viable candidate to move up.
  • John Simms: this home grown product (2013 11th round draftee) has earned promotion after promotion and should start 2018 in AAA.  He doesn’t have shutdown stuff, but could be a sneaky candidate for spot starts.
  • Logan Darnell; this 2018 MLFA signing from Tampa had good AAA success several years running for other organizations and seems like a clear AAA arm eater for now.  Can he be more?
  • Austin Voth; two years ago looked like he could be the next Tanner Roark, but a brutal 2017 season got him demoted to AA.  He posted a 3.15 ERA in AAA in 2016; can he get back there?   If not, then he’s in clear danger of being first man off the 40-man roster if a spot is needed.
  • Greg Ross: as with Voth, the Greg Ross train got derailed in upstate New York in 2017, also earning him a demotion.  He re-signed though for 2018 to give it another shot and might start in AAA given past success in AA.

Note: at least one of these names likely gets pushed down, especially since Fedde likely isn’t winning the 5th starter job.  Jackson and Milone as veterans may have opt-outs and are not likely to stick around, but you never know.  And if Cole doesn’t make the team, he’s passing through waivers before he gets to AAA and may not make it.  So the AAA rotation will be in flux right up until 4/1/18.

AA projected rotation (on top of whoever above might get pushed down, likely Ross then Voth)

  • Wirkin Estevez had good AA numbers in 2017 (3.63 ERA in 11 starts after promotion from high-A) and re-signed a ML deal to stay with the organization.   He’s probably first AA starter for a need-based promotion.
  • Tyler Mapes missed all of 2017 after a very solid AA 2016 season; if he’s healthy, he starts here looking to repeat his 2016 performance before getting moved up.
  • Kyle McGowin; our trade bounty for Danny Espinosa has shown two years running his inability to succeed in AAA.  He likely starts in AA again in 2018 given the log-jam in Syracuse.
  • Matt Crownover had a 4.50 ERA in a full AA season; nothing to really prove he needs to move up (especially given his weak K/9 rates), so likely starts in AA again looking for a mid-season promotion.
  • Jefry Rodriguez: the newest member of the 40-man roster, Rodriguez will hope to harness his high-A success from last year at the next step up.

Nobody in AA right now who looks like he could help immediately; Rodriguez though may get some spot-start/double header duty since he’s on the 40-man and doesn’t require a corresponding move.


 

So; are you satisfied with a ST 2018 competition or do you think we need to spend money or prospects on another arm?

Keep in mind; the division is a mess, with Atlanta not really trying, Miami actively getting worse and Philadelphia making curious moves.  Only the Mets will challenge, and their big move this off-season has been to sign Adrian Gonzalez .  So we don’t need a $20M/year 5th starter.  And there’s the luxury tax considerations that keep coming up.

thoughts?