Nationals Arm Race

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Nats say “Welcome to 2021” … Covid-19 says “Hold my Beer”

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DETROIT, MI – JULY 01: A detailed view of an official Major League Baseball with a surgical mask placed on it sitting outdie of Comerica Park on July 1, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

So, we knew that some Nats players (the numbers keep changing) have tested positive; it started with one known case, then that caused contact-tracing issues with another 4 players and 1 staff member. We’ve heard podcasts and reports that perhaps some of the 4 players might have it as well; regardless they’re now out for at least 10 days. So far, no mention of who popped positive for HIPAA reasons, but by the time you read this we may know.

As of Noon Friday 4/2/21, the entire opening series is now off. Makes sense; the league probably wants to get a handle on the outbreak, plus its an inter-divisional series that can be turned into a bunch of DHs later on with little travel/schedule impact.

Sources (aka Nats Beat reporters) have sniffed out the replacement call ups, which gives us a hint as to who has to sit for a bit. Call-ups are:

  • Sam Clay
  • Luis Garcia
  • Yadiel Hernandez
  • Tres Barrera

Now, based on the fact that its one positive test and then four others who were in close contact … and looking at who these replacements are for … it stands to reason these are the players who are now under quarantine:

  • Sam Clay for Luis Avilan
  • Luis Garcia for Starlin Castro
  • Yadiel Hernandez for either Juan Soto or Victor Robles
  • Tres Barrera for either Alex Avila or Yan Gomes.

It doesn’t take a detective to look at that like for like list and make some quick assumptions on who the players are that got hit or who were named in contact tracing; they’re all Latino. Which makes sense; if a team has natural cliques its around nationality and native speaking tongues hanging out together on planes and in clubhouses. The only other Latino players on the 26-man roster not already named would be Hernan Perez and Wander Suero, so don’t be surprised if we find out one of these guys is involved too.

Bummer all around, and not the best way to get the season started, especially if its taken out half our starting lineup.


In other recent news:

  • H/T to NationalsProspects for the BA story on the 2021 draft: it will be 20 rounds. With a lost year of development and every team now carrying an entire “extra” roster of players who played short-season last year, 20 rounds in 2021 makes sense. I think the natural landing point might be 30 rounds: basically every pick from the 31st round onwards by the Nats as of late is a HS throw-away designed to give notariety to a scout’s kid or cousin, or to throw a player a bone who some area scout who didn’t get any of his guys drafted previously, or to puff up some kid’s ego who was always going to go to college. They’re a waste and you can count on two hands the number of picks who even stuck with our system for more than a couple seasons from the 30th round onwards (Gabe Klobotis, Tyler Watson, Jorge Pantoja, Angelo LaBruna, Robert Orlan, Billy Burns from the last 10 drafts).
  • Also H/T to Luke Erickson for the BA story on Minor League affiliates increasing in size across the board. Again, this is nothing but a good thing.
  • Speaking of BA: they re-released their Nats top30 prospects and built in the Jan 2021 IFA signings, which resulted in the Nats adding their top 2021 IFA Armando Cruz at #5, with no other changes to our top 30 and HMs (I reviewed their list in Feb 2021 here). Cruz at #5 by BA makes them the high men on Cruz’s potential amongst those shops who have rated him. At this point there’s just one major shop who has not released their Nats prospect Rankings: Fangraphs/Eric Longenhagen, who seems to have gotten overwhelmed by his choice to rank 40+ prospects per system … by himself … while also writing other stuff. New Fangraphs and ex-Astros employee Kevin Goldstein is now helping get the list done. we’ll do a similar reaction piece as we did with other major pundits and then will publish the master prospect lists on the Big Board.
  • A reminder; we still don’t have an official opening day 26-man roster; the big board lists 27 …i’m guessing Will Harris will hit the D/L when the roster is officially released. Because the games got postponed, the team was not forced to officially release its rosters and can bide some time.
  • I’ve updated the Big Board to have the Alt training site, and to account for all the big moves, DFAs, outrights, roster sizes, etc.

Waiting in a holding pattern. But lets discuss once we get more news on who is impacted.

Nats 40-man Options status

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Nearly every year we talk about the Options status of the 40-man, and what it means for spring training. And this year is no different; nearly every year the options availability (or lack of them) helps drive some edge-of-the-roster decisions and the team ends up keeping players at the expense of others, often times in stark contrast to fan-perceived value or merit of inclusion.

Here’s a run-through of the Options status of the current 40-man roster. I have uploaded my Options Analysis annual spreadsheet to the Big Board; it is one of the 2021 tabs. Direct link here. The online XLS has a ton more information than we show here: it has updated Service time, first added to 40-man, known years optioned and some notes.

I divide the Roster into 5 categories of players on the 40-man:
– Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)
– Players with Options available but who are MLB Entrenched
– Players with Options Available, jeopardizing 25-man roster status
– Players with Options almost guaranteed to be used in 2021
– Players with No Options left (the main analysis of this post).

For completion, here’s a quick run-through of all the categories:

Category 1: Vets who can refuse demotion (5 or more years of service)

We have 13 such players for 2021: Scherzer, Corbin, Gomes, Strasburg, Harris, Castro, Hudson, Harrison, Schwarber, Lester, Zimmerman, Hand and Avila.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Castro, Zimmerman and Avila never once burned an option
– Schwarber just got his 5 years of service time last season.
– Zimmerman earned 10&5 rights in 2015, and Strasburg earned it last year.
– Of this group, only Hand actually burned three options. Then, he didn’t make the Miami team out of spring training in 2016 so they had to DFA him; San Diego claimed him and he began to flourish from there.


Category 2: Options Avail but are MLB entrenched

We have 7 such players for 2021: Turner, Soto, Robles, Suero, Rainey, Bell, and Finnegan.

You may quibble perhaps with Finnegan being called “entrenched” but for now, his 2020 season has him being a lock for the pen in my book.

Interesting tidbits about this group:
– Turner and Bell will reach 5 years of service time in 2021, which means they would be able to refuse an option.
– Neither Soto and Finnegan has ever been optioned.
– Turner’s 2015 nonsensical call-up ended up burning the team dearly; he achieved Super2 by just a few days and the Nats have been on the hook for millions more than they “needed” to spend.

Category 3: Options Available and not a lock for the 25-man roster.

I count 5 players in this category for 2021: Kieboom, Clay, Garcia, Fedde, and Harper.

Each of these players needs some discussion.

  • Kieboom, by all accounts, is being handed the 3B job. The team did not pursue a replacement, Castro wants to play 2B, and the job is his. I suppose it is still possible that the team finds a new 3B and sends him to AAA, where a lot of people think he needs to be. But for now, he’s in this category instead of the one above.
  • Clay signed a MLB contract with the team in the 2020 off-season, somewhat oddly in that he had zero MLB service time at that point and was a MLFA. I wonder if the team “beat out” another suitor by promising the 40-man slot. Either way, I do not favor Clay to make the team coming out of Spring Training.
  • Garcia could theoretically make the 25-man roster as our backup infielder … but i’d much rather see him in AAA playing full time. His slash line was not that impressive last year (but better than Kieboom’s … hence why some are wondering what the heck the team is doing). For now, i’d send him to AAA.
  • Fedde got a 4th option thanks to some timing issues … and i’ll bet the team uses it in 2021. Which means Fedde will be in AAA as a 28yr old and service time in four different MLB seasons. That’s got to be a bummer to him. And to make matters worse he may not be the first spot starter called upon, thanks to an option-less player we’re about to talk about.
  • Harper was solid in 2019, awful in 2020, and I think his options flexibility will mean he starts the year in AAA in lieu of one of the MLFA/NRIs we’ve signed this spring. But he should be back up eventually to provide injury relief cover.

Category 4: Players with options who are almost guaranteed to be optioned out of Spring Training.

I count 11 guys in this category: McGowin, Barrera, Noll, Braymer, Armenteros, Adon, Antuna, Fuentes, Hernandez, Romero and Bacus.

Lets take these guys by category:

  • Adon, Antuna and Fuentes: just added to the 40-man, not yet expected to contribute at the MLB level.
  • McGowin, Braymer, Armenteros and Romero: i’d want this to be 4/5ths or 4/6ths of my AAA rotation. I do not consider these players serious contenders to the 5th starter role, but I do think the team may be looking at the two lefties (Braymer and Romero) as relievers going forward. I’d rather see if they can cut it as starters and provide more value. Armenteros is a wildcard; he has certainly shown he can succeed as a starter in the minors and his release by Houston was somewhat surprising. I’m guessing he pitches excellently in AAA and could be a surprising call-up mid-seaons.
  • Noll: honestly i’m not sure why he’s still rostered at this point; instead of calling him up last year they started a 19yr old’s service time clock. Eventually they called him up and he got a grand total of three starts. He’s my “first guy off the 40-man if we need space” candidate right now.
  • Barrera: you have to have a backup catcher on the roster and he’s it.
  • Hernandez sits on the 40-man after a late-season call-up, but he seems to have no spot on this team. he’s 2nd behind Noll in “next guy to get DFA’d.”
  • Lastly, Bacus seems to be an afterthought reliever on the roster right now, and is not favored to beat out several MLFA NRIs for the 2021 roster.

Category 5: Players out of options.

We have 3 players out of options for 2021: Ross, Voth and Stevenson.

  • Joe Ross is the current leading 5th starter candidate.
  • Voth (along with Fedde) are the leading competitors for said 5th starter job, and the odds on circumstance to occur is this: Voth loses the 5th starter job but “looks good” in spring training, which leads the team to either carry him as the 8th reliever or to invent a soft tissue injury and stash him on the DL for a few weeks. If Voth does NOT look good in spring training, he’s a DFA candidate come 4/1/21.
  • Stevenson has proven his worth as a plus defender, 4th outfielder type and his 2020 allowed the team to move on (finally?) from Michael A. Taylor this off-season. He’s out of options, but it doesn’t matter b/c he’s the bench OF.

Post Publishing Update 3/23/21: an Arbiter has just ruled that Erick Fedde does NOT have a 4th option, meaning that he’s now out of options and would have to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the 2021 opening day roster.

Keith Law’s Nats Top 20 Prospect list

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Andry Lara continues to get attention out of the Nat’s system. Photo via Baseball America

Keith Law, over on the Athletic, released his Washington Nationals top 20 analysis yesterday. I like Law’s analysis, and realize that his opinions can be a bit polarizing, but I thought i’d run through his list and provide some analysis in spots where he differed greatly from other pundits in the space.

By this point in the “prospect analysis season” we’ve seen Nats run-throughs from Baseball America, Prospect361, MLBpipeline’s preliminary list, Prospects 1500, Bleacher Report, Baseball Prospectus, and now Keith Law. Still waiting for a couple other big names to drop (Mlbpipeline’s final list, ESPN, and Fangraphs), all of which should be coming in the next week ro so, but we’re starting to see some standardization of the lists.

Law’s ranking is “ceiling over floor” (meaning he likes younger prospects with growth potential versus older prospects who may be limited in terms of future impact). He’s definitely starter over reliever (its kind of surprising to ever see him rank a reliever) and premium defensive position over corner. So, there’s some surprises on this list.

The Athletic is behind a paywall, so here’s the list.

1CavalliCade
2RutledgeJackson
3HenryCole
4LaraAndry
5QuintanaRoismar
6DenaburgMason
7RomeroSeth
8CateTim
9CroninMatt
10De La RosaJeremy
11AntunaYasel
12InfanteSamuel
13MarteDaniel
14PinedaIsrael
15AdonJoan
16IrvinJake
17LeeEvan
18FuentesSteven
19ViandelPena
20SanchezBryan

Thoughts on his rankings:

  • Same top 3 as nearly all other pundits, in the expected order of Cavalli, Rutledge, Henry. I’d like to point out that the best-case projection for these three guys is a heck of a trio of arms to pair with Strasburg and Corbin for a few years at the back-end of their long term contracts. I mean, there’s worse situations to be in. Especially if all three are pitching in the majors on pre-arb contracts.
  • Andry Lara at #4: this is about where others are now putting him; the video on him is pretty impressive. Effortless delivery, almost like Livan Hernandez but with velocity, and side-stuff.
  • He has Roismar Quintana all the way up to #5, way way higher than anyone else (Baseball America had Quintana at #20 and most others have him in the mid-teens). This exemplifies ceiling over floor approach to prospect grading to a T.
  • He’s got our two high-profile 1st round scuffles in Denaburg and Romero back to back, fittingly. Question; at what point does a prospect write-up of Romero NOT mention that he’s got “off-the-field” issues? I daresay i have not read a paragraph about the player since the day we drafted him that did not include that caveat. I wonder if he makes the majors and pitches for us for several years and then when we hear about his first arbitration hearing if the write-ups will go, “… Romero pitched adequately out of the nats bullpen in 2026 … he’s come a long way since getting kicked off his college team!” sigh.
  • Law has Antuna all the way down at #11 (by way of comparison, BA has him #4 and Prospects1500 has him at #2, which may be influenced by fantasy value since he’s now on the 40-man and might get big league time in 2021). I think Law dings him because he doesn’t think Antuna can stick at a premium defensive position … which greatly hurts his value unless he can show 25-homer power.
  • Despite having TJ surgery, Law has Jake Irvin all the way up to #16, noting that he was showing significantly higher velocity before blowing out his elbow (do you think maybe the two events are related?) Nonetheless, if Irvin comes back with a new elbow and the same velocity, he’s a significantly better prospect.
  • Evan Lee at #17 … that’s definitely optimistic on Lee.
  • Bryan Sanchez at #20 and now we know why; 3,000 rpm on his curve ball right now to go with mid 90s velocity?? As an 18yr old? Wow.

A couple other notes:

  • Cluff and Mendoza were BA’s #10 and #11 … and Law doesn’t even have them in his top 20.
  • No mention of Tres Barrera who is mid-teens in most other groups, not even in his honorable mentions.
  • Lastly, he drops a name i’ve never heard before: Mirton Blanco. Turns out he’s an 2018 IFA who threw in the DSL in 2019 with pretty solid velocity before blowing out his elbow too. Seems like a trend.

Baseball America’s Nats top 30

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Cade Cavalli named #1 prospect in the system by Baseball America. Photo via Lookout Landing blog

Baseball America announced Top 30 lists for all teams on 2/3/21, which meant we get the first major team-specific review of the prospects.

The lack of a minor league season in 2020 complicates this analysis, as does the late arriving IFA class (delayed 6 months from its typical July 2 date). But we do have some shuffling of prospects from prior lists. This post will call out some of the more interesting prospects on BA’s list, if they’re higher or lower than other shops.

Direct link to the Nats top 30 is here. The top 30 table is here:

2021 BA RankLast NameFirst Name
1CavalliCade
2RutledgeJackson
3HenryCole
4AntunaYasel
5LaraAndry
6De La RosaJeremy
7CateTim
8DenaburgMason
9CroninMatt
10MendozaDrew
11CluffJackson
12InfanteSamuel
13RomeroSeth
14PinedaIsrael
15BarreraTres
16MarteDaniel
17BraymerBen
18PowellHolden
19FuentesSteven
20QuintanaRoismar
21DysonTyler
22IrvinJake
23AdonJoan
24ReetzJakson
25SharpSterling
26AriasAndry
27TetreaultJackson
28BanksNick
29SchallerReid
30SanchezBryan

Notable players:

  • Like pretty much every other prospect ranking shop, the top three includes Cade Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge and Cole Henry. Cavalli comes in ahead of Rutledge.
  • After a down year, Yasel Antuna is now all the way up to #4. As we’ve heard repeatedly, he did well in the XST 60-man last year and is rounding into the prospect shape they thought they were getting when they spent $3.9M on him in 2016. For all the talk we have about whether Kieboom is ready … maybe we’re looking at the wrong 3B prospect right now. Could Antuna win the 3B job this spring??
  • BA continues to be high shop on De La Rosa, ranking him #6.
  • The Pittsburgh trade cost the team two of its former BA top 10 players in Crowe and Yean, which moves up two 2019 draftees Cronin and Mendoza into the top 10. Both were solid college players who have done well so far in the minors. Cronin seems like he could zoom up the minors in 2021.
  • They’re way high on Infante, with him at #12 when most shops have him buried in the mid 20s. I definitely feel like there’s some pretty distinct opinions on Infante in the Natmosphere; some people really hated the pick. He was above slot, buying him out of a UMiami commitment and is listed as having plus arm, plus hands and is “advanced” for a prep draft pick.
  • Romero down to #13. For understandable reasons; his velocity was not impressive in 2020 in his very short season. I’d like to see him in AAA, as a starter, pitching every 5th day for half a season to see just what he’s capable of.
  • The three catchers on this list: Barrera at #14, Pineda at #15, Reetz at #24; does anyone actually think any of these guys ever contribute at the MLB level? Reetz was a MLFA re-signing and comes in at #24 in the system?
  • Daniel Marte pops up kind of out of the blue at #16. Seems like a speculative ranking.
  • Ben Braymer at #17 continues to get half-hearted prospect support, despite his excellent minor league career thus far. A reminder; he has a career 3.64 minor league ERA despite a 7+ ERA in 13 Fresno starts in 2019. He continues to be one of the best middle-round picks we’ve ever had.
  • Steven Fuentes creeping up to #19. Still can’t believe he’s not higher; he dominated AA in 2019 as a 22yr old.
  • BA is much lower on Joan Adon than other shops, bringing him at #23 when most others have him in the 14-17 range.
  • Same with Reid Schaller; having him #29 while other shops have him as high as #16.
  • Why is Sterling Sharp even considered a prospect at this point (he’s ranked #25).
  • Two debutants on BA’s list that i’ve never seen mentioned elsewhere before: Andry Arias comes in at #27 and Bryan Sanchez at #30

FYI: The 2021 IFA picks (specifically Armando Cruz) were not included on this list.

Overall farm system thoughts: top heavy: 3 big arms at the top who project as solid #2-#3 starters. Then three high-risk/high-ceiling IFAs. Then a combination of big-time Div1 studs and failed first rounders. There’s room for improvement.

Nats Off-Season Roster Considerations

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Do the Nats bring back this famous celebration couple? Photo via Brobible

Since we have no playoffs to discuss, we’re pivoting immediately into off-season mode.

The Nats procedurally on 9/28/20 activated all their 10-day DL players. They also procedurally recalled the last three remaining players from the 40-man alternative site for the purposes of off-season moves. Amazingly, they ended the season with 9 players on the 10-day DL and just one healthy player on the 40-man roster not already playing (Raudy Read).

https://www.mlb.com/nationals/roster/transactions/2020/09

Free Agents to-be are immediately declared FAs at 8am Central time the day after the World Series ends. The team doesn’t have to restore its 60-day DL players until 5 days after the World Series ends, which allows them to add them back after free agents are declared and after the team has a small exclusive window to negotiate. So, we have to wait for about a month to see the next dominos fall, but we can start to speculate now.

Based on my records, here’s how our roster will look in the off-season, which will drive the decisions to make. We’ll classify these players into 5 categories

Category 1: Players under a “veteran” contract for 2021 (7): Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, Hudson, Harris, Gomes, Castro. Seven players but a huge payroll hit (per Cots, these 7 players count for $120M or so in cap space next year.


Category 2: Pre-Arbitration players under full team control (22): Voth, Fedde, Crowe, Finnegan, Harper, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, AWilliams (TJ aug 2020), Read, Garcia, Noll, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque, Kieboom, Sanchez, Romero, Barrera. That’s a ton of players on pre-arb deals, which is important since they will represent a huge chunk of the active roster in 2021. I think a few of these pre-arb guys are in discussion for “first 40-man guy to get DFA’d when the team needs room” territory (Noll, Williams, Sanchez) but for now, they’re all in play. Note: a couple of these guys were technically MLFA signings in 2020 so i’m not sure if they are now pre-arb or still FAs. Apologies if I got their status wrong).


Category 3: Arbitration-eligible players for 2021 (8). Here’s where we start discussions. Player by player:

  • Suero (A1); lock to tender
  • Turner (A3): lock to tender
  • Soto (A1): lock to tender. I saw something recently that seemed to indicate he may or may not be a Super-2 guy, but he was projecting to be Super-2 after last off-season so i’m assuming he’s Arb-eligible this year.
  • Taylor (A4); Nothing has really changed with Taylor; he struggled at the plate again but hit a few bombs, which drove his OPS+ figure up a bit from what you’d expect for someone who hit below .200. The change in Taylor in 2020 is that his defensive numbers COST him WAR this year instead of helped. Probably Small Sample Size driven, but Taylor’s bigger problem is that his direct competition as “4th outfielder” on this roster Andrew Stevenson just blew up in 2020, making Taylor an obvious non-tender candidate.
  • Guerra (A4); his contract status is odd; he has bounced back and forth on and off the roster and signed a combo major/minor FA deal this past off-season. But Cots lists him as arb-eligible, so i’m not entirely sure if he’s a FA or if he’s arb eligible. My guess is that the team cuts another deal with him and non-tenders him if he’s eligible then immediately re-signs him the next day.
  • Barrett (A3); another odd case; how much does sentimentality count? The team called up a slew of other prospects before recalling Barrett this year, he pitched in 2 games then hit the DL. It seems to me he’s a non-tender candidate and at age 32 could be facing one last shot at making a MLB roster next year.
  • Elias (A3); 2020 a lost season for Elias, who went onto the 60-day DL early and barely pitched in 2019 for this team as well (thanks to the idiotic decision in Aug 2019 to allow him to hit, which resulted in a leg injury with him running out a grounder in a meaningless at bat). The Nats didn’t give up a ton to acquire him (giving up two decent minor league arms in Taylor Guilbeau and Elvis Alvarado) so I can’t imagine them non-tendering him, but how do you do salary evaluation of a player who misses an entire year?
  • JRoss (A3); he opted out in 2020, and his absence was felt immediately when it became clear his 5th starter replacements could not cut it. I think you tender him and he goes back into the starter competition for 2021. Worst case he gets cut mid-way through spring training and the Nats escape with 1/6th of his salary.

Category 4: Players with Options for 2021 (5): here’s where we start having some tougher decisions.

  • Sanchez: $12M club option, $2M buyout: I’m not sure how you take this option if you’re the Nats after the season we just saw. Sanchez was lucky to post the numbers he did in 2019 (his FIP was more than a half a point higher than his ERA), and he bottomed out in 2020. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Thames: $4M mutual option, $1M buyout. Thames posted just a 65 OPS+ playing primarily as a 1B/DH type. That’s just patently awful, considering how many options there were on the market for “non-mobile mid-30s slugger.” Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Holt: $5M club option, $750k buyout. He took a significant step back from his Boston numbers, which resulted in Milwaukee cutting bait on him a month into a 2year deal. Despite his positional flexibility (he played 6 positions in 20 games for the Nats) I don’t see how you guarantee $5M to a guy who didn’t “wow” you in his audition. Decline the option, pay the buyout.
  • Eaton: $10.5M club option, $1.5M buyout. Phew; what do you do here. His fourth straight year in offensive decline. He was awful defensively. But he’s only 31; does the team take the $10.5M option and roll the dice that 2020 was an anomoly? If they cut him, do they have a replacement minor leaguer that makes sense (not really no). So do they roll the dice that they can get comparable production on the FA market for the same price? How much does sentimentality factor in here? Clubhouse presence and managerial relationship? Again, he’s only 31, which is a lot different from 36 (see next). I think the team exercises the option.
  • Kendrick: $6.5M mutual option, $2.25M buyout. Word came out a few days ago that Kendrick was considering retirement until he got hurt. I’m not sure I buy that, not with a 6.5M option on the table and more gas left in the tank. Another sentimental pick here; a guy who can plug in multiple positions in a pinch and who now has the DH to settle into if need be. Also a factor here; much like in poker, if you’re into a hand already for the big blind, why not make a call for a little bit more? Declining the option only saves them $4M, and it may be worth the cost to keep a veteran presence around one more time. I mean, if Eaton is there, you gotta keep his buddy Howie right? Exercise the option.

Category 5: Unrestricted FAs (6). Now, there’s nothing the team can really do with these guys since they’re FAs. But we can talk about whether or not we think the team pursues them in the off-season:

  • Suzuki; do you re-sign a 37yr old catcher? He’s been amazingly consistent at the plate the last few years while splitting time pretty evenly with Gomes. Still sporting a decent OBP. Is he getting pushed out by rising minor league depth (hardly, unless you think Read or Barrera is an option in the majors in 2021). I might pursue a 1-yr deal.
  • Cabrera: reverted to his 2018-19 form at the plate, league average providing poor, slow, aging defense at multiple infield positions. I think you move on.
  • Harrison really showed a jolt for this team, but he’s a 2B on a team with a prospect seemingly installed there for the longer run.
  • Doolittle: tough one. Struggled last year, struggled this year. A huge part of the community, outspoken leader. Maybe bring him back on an incentive-laden deal?
  • Freeman (TJ Aug 2020); really bad timing on his TJ surgery, as he’s a FA and will be rehabbing on his own.
  • Zimmerman, the most difficult decision of all. The team was onboard with a $2M deal for 2020 before he opted out for completely understandable family reasons. 2020 was his age 35 season; I’d guarantee him a $2M incentive-laden deal to be a 1B/DH platoon with a lefty slugger for 2021 absolutely. When he’s healthy he can hit, and doing nothing but DHing will help keep him on the field. Its worth a flier for a guy who is either retiring to the Nats front office or playing in 2021.

If the team does exactly what I say here, what would be our needs heading into the off-season? First lets see how this would look from a roster perspective (not counting FAs):

  • SP: Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin, JRoss (A3), Voth, Fedde, Crowe, McGowin, Braymer, Espino, Romero
  • RP: Hudson, Harris, Suero, Elias, Finnegan, Harper, Bacus, Rainey, Bourque
  • C: Gomes, Read, Barrera
  • INF: Castro, Turner, Garcia, Noll, Kieboom, Sanchez, Kendrick
  • OF: Soto, Robles, Stevenson, Hernandez, Eaton

Immediate thoughts on areas of need:

  • Another starter. I’m just not sure you can go into 2021 with your 4th/5th starters being Ross, Voth, Fedde and Crowe. I’m not sure I trust what I saw from McGowin or Braymer. Espino has never really succeeded in the majors and seems like the definition of a 4-A guy. And Romero? Maybe he can step up now that he’s gotten his debut out of the way.
  • Reliever help: I see 5-6 mlb-quality relievers here, but we’d need like 12 on the 40-man roster.
  • Catcher; as discussed with Suzuki above
  • Infield: well, right now your starting infield in 2021 is Castro/Kieboom at 3rd, Turner at SS, Garcia/Castro at 2nd, Kendrick at 1st (if they exercise his option), with Noll and Sanchez in AAA or released. They probably need more depth here.
  • Outfield: If they exercise Eaton’s option, then little needs to be done. If they don’t, then they’ll need a starting corner OF.

In other words, they need help basically everywhere.

Thoughts? did I get anything wrong?

Fangraphs updates the Board with 2020 picks

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Henry makes fangraph's top 10. Photo via ai.com

Henry makes fangraph’s top 10. Photo via ai.com

A small diversion from the Nats increasingly awful 4-7 (the equivalent of 11-19 in a full season) start to the abbreviated season…currently in line for the 5th draft pick in 2021 and somehow missing the “basically everyone makes the playoffs” 2020 post-season.

We posted a couple weeks ago about Baseball America’s updated prospect rankings with our 2020 draftees … now by inference Fangraphs has done the same.  They announced today that “The Board” has been updated with bonus amounts (which must have been an amazing amount of work to do, especially to track down bonuses for post 11th rounders and for all the random July 2nd picks who don’t exactly go out of their way to announce paltry bonus figures), and I noticed our 2020 picks included in their system rankings.

So, here’s some quick notes on our 2020 draftees and how they slotted in:

  • 1st rounder Cade Cavalli pops up as our 4th ranked prospect, right after Jackson Rutledge.  This is basically what BA did as well.
  • 2nd rounder Cole Henry is ranked 10th, as compared to BA’s 5th.  This puts him just ahead of the likes of Tim Cate and Seth Romero and seem a more appropriate ranking spot than the lofty heights that BA put him.
  • 2nd round supp pick Samuel Infante is placed 18th as compared to BA’s 10th.  This puts him well below Yasiel Antuna and right in the same range as Jackson Cluff.
  • 3rd rounder UCLA closer Holden Powell did not make the top 24 ranked players, as compared to BA’s ranking of 14.  This mean’s Holden is well below the other relievers ranked in our system, including Matt Cronin, James Bourque and Tyler Dyson.  Again, a more sane ranking than what BA did.

Otherwise Fangraphs’ rankings are unchanged from their Dec 2019 ranking, which means they continue to exclude some names from their list altogether that some Nats fans may call out.  Guys like Jake Irvin, Jackson Tetreault, Cole Freeman, Tres Barrera, Ben BraymerJhonatan German and Steven Fuentes get no love from the Fangraphs duo of Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel.

BA Mid-season updated top 30 Prospects released; analysis and reaction

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Kieboom still #1 ... but not for long. Photo via Federal Baseball

Kieboom still #1 … but not for long. Photo via Federal Baseball

Hey, we’re half a week into the season, the Nats are 1-3, are already on their 7th string starting pitcher, havn’t had their star player play b/c he apparently got a false-positive Covi19 test, managed to lose a game where Corbin gave up one hit through six innings against perhaps the best team in the majors.  Oh, and half the Marlins have tested positive for Covid19 and the Nats just basically voted as a team to boycott the next trip to Miami.

Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was the play?

Lets talk Prospects instead for a bit.  In the midst of the race to restart the season, Baseball America reported out its updated top 30 prospects for all teams.  Here’s the Nats version.  I’m not sure if this is or isn’t behind a paywall (I’m a BA subscriber so I don’t know but suspect it is), so here’s the overall list.

1. Carter Kieboom, SS/2B
2. Luis Garcia, SS/2B
3. Jackson Rutledge, RHP
4. Cade Cavalli, RHP
5. Cole Henry, RHP
6. Wil Crowe, RHP
7. Tim Cate, LHP
8. Drew Mendoza, 1B
9. Andry Lara, RHP
10. Mason Denaburg, RHP
11. Sammy Infante, SS
12. Yasel Antuna, SS
13. Seth Romero, LHP
14. Holden Powell, RHP
15. Tres Barrera, C
16. Eddy Yean, RHP
17. Jeremy De La Rosa, OF
18. Matt Cronin, LHP
19. Jake Irvin, RHP
20. Jackson Cluff, SS
21. Tyler Dyson, RHP
22. Reid Schaller, RHP
23. Israel Pineda, C
24. Ben Braymer, LHP
25. Cole Freeman, 2B/OF
26. James Borque, RHP
27. Joan Adon, RHP
28. Jackson Tetreault, RHP
29. Malvin Pena, RHP
30. Nick Banks, OF

So, its basically the exact same top 30 published with the BA handbook in February, but inserting the 2020 draftees.  Four of our six 2020 picks have made the top 30 list:

4. Cade Cavalli, RHP
5. Cole Henry, RHP
11. Sammy Infante, SS
14. Holden Powell, RHP

These four players push off the guys ranked 27th-30th in February, namely:

27. Steven Fuentes, RHP
28. Jakson Reetz, C
29. Nick Raquet, LHP
30. Jhonatan German, RHP

—–

thoughts overall:

  • I think the placement of Cavalli and Henry at 4th and 5th makes sense.  They slot in behind the more established 1st round starter in Rutledge, but ahead of the more accomplished but more ceiling-limited Crowe.
  • Infante at #11 just ahead of Antuna is … interesting.  I mean, I understand Antuna’s shine is off a bit, but we’re still talking about a guy who at Infante’s age played an entire season at full-A and who got nearly 4x the signing bonus.
  • Powell placed at #14 when Cronin is #18??  Um; did you guys SEE what Cronin did to Low-A last  year in his pro debut?  Enough to get put on the damn 60-man roster a few months later.  You mean to tell me you think Powell’s side-arm closer action is projecting better than Cronin right now?
  • Hey, that Nick Raquet ranking in February is aging great.
  • So is that Barrera ranking; before the 2020 draft BA nearly had him as a top 10 prospect.  I know we’re weak on hitters but … damn.
  • Raudy Read is nowhere to be found, but he beats out both Barrera and Reetz to make the opening day 30-man roster.  Something is amiss here.
  • Talk about bad timing for a pandemic-induced cancellation of the minor league season for two guys inparticular: Seth Romero and Mason Denaburg.   Two first rounders who desperately needed playing time this year.  Ah well.

 

 

MLB Pipeline top 30 comes out: who are they up/down on?

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Rutledge is holding stead at #3 on nearly everyone's list. Photo via BA

Rutledge is holding stead at #3 on nearly everyone’s list. Photo via BA

In quick succession to Keith Law‘s list of top Nats prospects, the prospect team at MLBpipeline.com (Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo) has released their top 30 for the nats system.

Here’s the major pundits in the space and links to their top X lists:

  • MLBpipeline (Callis, Mayo): https://www.mlb.com/prospects/2020/nationals/
  • Athletic (Keith Law): https://theathletic.com/1646222/2020/03/03/keith-laws-prospect-rankings-washington-nationals/ (paywall)
  • Fangraphs (McDaniel and Longenhagen): https://blogs.fangraphs.com/top-21-prospects-washington-nationals/
  • Baseball America: https://www.baseballamerica.com/teams/1012/washington-nationals/organizational/?year=2020&type=P
  • Baseball Prospectus: https://www.baseballprospectus.com/prospects/article/55796/2020-prospects-washington-nationals-top-10-prospects/ (paywall)

The only major pundits remaining without published lists are John Sickels, who ran minorleagueball.com for years but who is now at the Athletic and i’m not sure if he’s still in the business of prospect rankings (he did not do one last year but it was perhaps still during the transition to the site) and Kiley McDaniel, who recently left Fangraphs to take over for Law at ESPN and probably doesn’t have time in 2020.

Anyway, lets take a look at the MLBpipeline guys and see who they’re “up” and “down” on.  From a prospect perspective, I perceive that Callis/Mayo tend to more heavily weigh the “famous factor” in these rankings, often keeping players around just due to draft pedigree or signing bonus.  They also seem to weigh floor a bit more than ceiling (hence why we have a few “edge of the 40-man roster types” lingering on this list, and often will have promising but younger players omitted to include older guys … that is unless the younger guy is in the “famous” category.

  • Same top 3 as everyone else
  • They’re definitely high man on both Andry Lara and Eddy Yean.
  • As per the “famous factor,” Romero continues to linger in their top 10
  • They like 2019 IFA Roismar Quintana; Law and BA didn’t rank him at all and they have him 15th despite never having played an inning in pro ball.
  • They have a bunch of  higher-round college arm draft picks in teh 20-30 range (guys like Schaller, Irvin, Bourque, Braymer) that seem to be to be low ceiling guys; are any of these guys anything other than org-arms?
  • Raudy ReadJakson Reetz and Tres Barrera listed as 25,28 and 19 respectively.  Is this how you’d rank these depth chart catchers right now on your prospect  list?
  • They’re much lower on German than Law was, but are in line with BA and Fangraphs.   I wonder what Law sees in the guy.

Who’s missing?

  • as others noted, no Jackson Tetrault anywhere.  No Malvin Pena mentioned either.  No Augustin on mlb’s list; only Law likes this guy.

Keith Law’s Nats top 20 comes out; who is he up and down on?

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Kieboom is Law's number one ... like everyone else. Photo via federalbaseball.com

Kieboom is Law’s number one … like everyone else. Photo via federalbaseball.com

Keith Law, long-time ESPN baseball writer and prospect lead, moved to the Athletic this past off-season and he’s put out most of his 2020 pre-season prospect content.  Yesterday he put out his Nats top-20 list.

We already know that Law is bearish on the Nats system in general, ranking it 29th out of 30 teams.  A lot of that has to do with his being “lower” on Carter Kieboom and especially Luis Garcia than any others.  But its also a pretty specific indictment of the Nats top-end drafting (and to be fair, trading of prospects to acquire MLB players) over the past years.  Consider the top 3 rounds of draftees lately (see the Draft Tracker for more: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Qd5DS9GlmkQOEh_zGhOvlhHK0EegqY1uJB4mLGmRBaY/)

  • 2019: Rutledge, forfeited 2nd round pick, Mendoza
  • 2018: Denaburg, Cate, Schaller
  • 2017: Romero, Crowe, Raquet
  • 2016: Kieboom, Dunning, Neuse, Luzardo
  • 2015: forfeited 1st round pick, Stevenson, Perkins, Wisemann
  • 2014: Fedde, Suarez (who refused to sign), Reetz
  • 2013: forfeited 1st round pick, Johansen, Ward
  • 2012: Giolito, Renda, Mooneyham

So, take a look at this list of top end picks.  You have to go all the way back to 2011 to find a first rounder who has starred for this organization (Anthony Rendon).  The team gave up on Giolito and he’s now starting for the White Sox.  Fedde is heading to the minors again in 2020 and seems topped out as a 4-A starter, and so far the team has gotten nothing from its 2017 and 2018 $3M arms Romero and Denaburg.  You can credibly say that the team lost or outright blew its first round picks in 5 of the last 8 seasons, and the guys who have succeeded not named Kieboom are playing for other teams.

The 2nd rounders are even a worse indictment; Renda and Johansen were failures. Suarez refused to sign (a huge gaffe in the modern bonus-structure driven draft).  Stevenson is a 5th outfielder.  Dunning and Neuse are solid … for other teams.  We gave up last year’s 2nd rounder to sign Patrick Corbin.

Lastly the 3rd rounders have also basically done nothing: the team was obsessed with Mooneyham for years and he never got above A-ball.  Ward and Wiseman are org players.  Reetz is finally showing some promise … in his 6th pro season.   Luzardo?  Awesome … for another team.  Raquet was serviceable as a starter in high-A last year repeating the level, but may be heading to relief as a lefty specialist.  Schaller didn’t even make Law’s top 20 list despite being a Vanderbilt product, and Mendoza is already a 1B limited guy more famous for his HS pedigree than his abilities.

Yeah.  Its no wonder our system is so poorly ranked.

(No, i’m not taking into context who we traded these assets for.  Yes i’m aware that the trades of Giolito, Dunning, Neuse, and Luzardo netted the team several crucial pieces at the MLB level in Adam Eaton, Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madsen.  That’s not the point here; we’re isolating reasons why the farm system has collapsed; part of is is poor drafting and part of it is trading away 1st and 2nd rounders.  I’m less concerned with the traded assets as I am with the 1st and 2nd round pick failures that are starting to mount up; Denaburg and Romero in particular.).

———–

Anyway.  Lets take a look at who Law likes and doesn’t like as compared to the rest of the prospect ranking world.  Law’s methodology generally favors ceiling over floor (so he likes younger prep guys with potential versus boring guys in AAA with demonstrated but un-flashy talent).  He favors those in the skill positions (SS, CF) versus corners.  He really discounts relievers.  He likes IFAs.  So with that in mind, here’s some names worth mentioning:

  • He has the same top 3 as most every one else for our system: Kieboom, Garcia, Rutledge.  BA, Fangraphs, MLBpipeline and Law all have these three in a row.
  • He’s generally down on Kieboom though versus other shops: I’ve seen Kieboom in the 11-15 range on a lot of minors-wide lists; Law has him all the way down at #74.
  • We know he’s down on Garcia versus others.  I’ve seen Garcia mostly in the 60s to 90s range on these minor’s wide lists; Law doesn’t have him anywhere close and has made mention of it whenever asked, saying that Garcia’s sole “tool” seems to be that he was 19 in AA last season.  This is definitely at odds with the way Garcia is portrayed within the organization (he did get an NRI this year and has already hit a flashy homer), nor with other evaluations.
  • He remains higher on Denaburg than others: see “ceiling” versus “floor” reasoning above.
  • he’s a little higher on Jeremy De La Rosa and Eddy Yean than other shops, noting that Yean’s name frequently comes up in trade talks but the Nats are holding firm.
  • He’s lower on Matt Cronin than other shops despite his eye-popping numbers: see “reliever all the way” reasoning above.
  • He’s suddenly much higher on Reetz than basically anyone else, citing 2nd half splits that really look rosy.  Hey, i’ve been down on Reetz for a while, using him as my classic “Baseball doesn’t know what a sunk cost is” economics argument for hanging onto failed prospects just because they ahve a big bonus.  But maybe we’re finally going to see something out of him.
  • He’s way higher on Jhonatan German than anyone else; despite his being a pure reliever, perhaps a reliever-only starts getting his attention once he starts getting AA hitters out.
  • He’s bullish on Telmito Agustin, but i’m not sure why.  Agustin cratered while repeating high-A, though he’s still just 23.
  • He does not like Mendoza nearly as much as others.  Mendoza has a big bat, no doubt, but he can barely play 1B and may end up being a DH-only guy.  That’s a ding on the prospect ranking set unless you’ve got Vladimir Guerrero Jr. batting lines in the minors.
  • he’s down on some of our mid-minors college arms, guys like Jake IrvinReid SchallerJackson Tetreault and Ben Braymer.  Braymer in particular probably is a “floor versus ceiling” discussion;  yeah he’s on the 40-man but what does he project to?  A 5th starter?  A reliever?
  • Lastly, he’s completly at odds with one shop in particular that has Tres Barrera as the 11th ranked prospect.  And I get it; what exactly is Barrera going to give this organization going forward?

Anyway.  If you’re not an Athetic subscriber I would encourage you to sign up.  They’ve got some of the best talent in the game writing for them now and they just keep adding more good stuff.

 

Ask Jessica; MLB.com’s new Nats Beat Reporter Jessica Camerato does her first inbox/mailbag

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Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Will Kieboom have a shot at the 25-man roster this Spring? Photo via federalbaseball.com

Jamal Collier has moved on: our new mlb.com beat reporter is Jessica Camerato.  As far as I can now tell, here’s your official beat reporters for the team from the various major media outlets covering the team:

(post-publishing edit: thanks for the crowd-sourcing on the WP beat reporter history that I had forgotten despite still, to this day, being a WP paper subscriber).

  • Washington Post; Jessie Dougherty/Sam Fortier. Before them in descending chronological order: Chelsea Janes/Jorge CastilloJames Wagner, Adam KilgoreChico Harlan.  The original/first beat reporter was Barry Svrluga.
  • MASN: Mark Zuckerman.  He formerly covered the team for The Washington Times, then Comcast Sports Net, with an “unaffiliated” year between gigs writing for his own site (natsinsider.com)
  • MLB.com: Jessica Camerato, formerly Jamal Collier and then for years Bill Ladson
  • The Athletic: Brittany Ghiroli
  • Comcast Sports Net/NBC Sports: not sure?  Perhaps Matt Weyrich?  Todd Dybas (thanks to commenter rdexposfan)
  • Washington Times: … not sure?  Do they have a dedicated beat reporter since parting ways with Zuckerman?

Am I missing any major DC area media outlets with professional beat reporters?

Anyway I digress.

Here’s Camerato’s first mailbag, dated 1/31/20, responding primarily to questions she got on twitter.

———

Q: How are the Nats going to replace Anthony Rendon’s production?

A: Uh… they’re not?

It should be pretty obvious that the team has attempted to “replace” Anthony Rendon‘s lineup presence in a very Billy Beane fashion; buy a bunch of cheaper alternatives that, in the aggregate, may come close to adding up to replace the star.  They’ve brought back guys (Kendrick and Cabrera), they’ve hired new guys (Castro) and they’re hoping that their prospects (primarily Kieboom) can grow up fast and contribute soon.  Throw enough 3B-capable players at the wall and hopefully something sticks.

What they have NOT done is acquire a superstar replacement: no Josh Donaldson and as of yet no trade for someone like Kris Bryant or Nolan Arenado.  I’m not entirely sure how the team puts together a package deep enough to get these guys, not without crushing the existing roster or what remains of the farm system at this point (Baseball America just ranked the system 23rd, and once Kieboom and Luis Garcia graduate i’m not sure what remains to keep it from plummeting to the bottom).  So I think we all have to hope that the new un-tapped edge in the sport is middle-aged sluggers and go with it.

Camerato doesn’t really mention the like-for-like position player at 3B, instead points out that Juan Soto may step up .

———

Q: What are the chances Carter Kieboom lands at third?

A: This year?  Or eventually?

I think eventually yes he ends up at 3B.  This year, at least in the first half, may not provide him many opportunities thanks to the FAs that the team has signed.

I don’t think he ends up at 2B; he’s a bit big, despite currently being a SS and his defensive strength reportedly is in his arm, not his movement, so 2B makes sense for others … like Garcia.

Camerato says he’ll get his shot at the job in ST but that he’ll have competition.

Q: Who’s gonna be the fifth starter?

A: I think it almost has to be Joe Ross.  Ross has proven more than a few times he can’t pitch in relief.  He’s got no options.  And he’s proven in the past to be a solid 5th starter.   His competition for the role all seems to be internal this year; there’s no MLFA reclamation project like Jeremy Hellickson waiting in the wings (at least not right now).  Erick Fedde and Austin Voth are his most direct competition … one has a magical 4th option (Fedde) which buries him in Fresno even before spring training begins, and the other guy (Voth) gets the 13th pitcher roster spot thanks to no options and his ability to be a swing-man /spot starter.

Camerato says they don’t really need to figure this out in Spring Training … which I don’t agree with frankly b/c of the options situation with two of them.

——–

Q: What does the farm system look like this year? Who should we watch that could make the club in 2021?

A: Farm system, as mentioned above, is thin.  Its two guys at the top (Kieboom and Garcia) and then its a gap to players who are a ways away.

Why is the Farm so thin right now?  Because the team has blown or traded away multiple first round picks in the last few years.   Consider the Draft Tracker:

  • 2019 1st rounder Jackson Rutledge; now basically our 3rd best prospect after throwing 37 innings last season.
  • 2018 1st rounder Mason Denaburg: didn’t pick at all in 2018, threw 20 innings in 2019 with an ERA north of 7.00 in the GCL and is reportedly nursing an injury
  • 2017 1st rounder Seth Romero; known problem child who continued to cause issues upon signing, and threw just 47 pro innings before blowing out his UCL.
  • 2016 1st rounder lost due to the Daniel Murphy signing.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Dane Dunning traded away to get Adam Eaton.
  • 2016 Supplemental 1st rounder Kieboom currently our long-standing #1 overall prospect.
  • 2015 1st rounder lost due to the Max Scherzer signing.
  • 2014 1st rounder Erick Fedde really yet to be effective for the MLB team frankly; 143 MLB innings with a 5.39 ERA.

The Denaburg and Romero picks in particular are really crushing the system; those two guys should both be top 100 prospects right now.  Its also worth noting that the team traded away Jesus Luzardo in 2017 in the Doolittle trade, and he’s now nearly a top 5 prospect in the whole of the sport.

Why do I focus on 1st rounders?  Well because those are by far the players with the highest percentage chances of matriculating to the majors, and should be the ones at the top of your prospect lists.  Instead, our team has gotten almost NO prospect depth out of our 1st rounders over the past 6 drafts.  Instead the tops of our “top 30” lists are dotted with 2nd and 3rd rounders (Wil Crowe, 2nd rounder in 2017, Tim Cate, 2nd rounder in 2018 being the best recent examples), but even those 2nd rounders have been gutted lately:

  • 2019 2nd rounder lost to the Patrick Corbin signing
  • 2016 2nd rounder Sheldon Neuse  also traded away with Luzardo in the Doolittle deal, now on the cusp of the Oakland MLB roster
  • 2015 2nd rounder Blake Perkins traded away for Kelvin Herrera (though to be fair, he was young and has yet to really materialize as a prospect)
  • 2014 2nd round pick Andrew Suarez refused to sign; he’s pitched all of 2018 in San Francisco’s rotation.

That’s a LOT of additional prospect depth either out the door on top of the failures of the 1st rounders.  And its going to get worse before it gets better.

Who might debut in 2021?  I’d be looking for Garcia, Crowe, maybe Barrera moving up, Braymer and maybe even a couple of the 2019 guys (Mendoza or Rutledge) if they blow up this year.

Camerato says… Garcia might debut in 2021.  not much else.

————-

Q: Welcome! I’d be interested in hearing about players who changed up personal routine, training regimen, pitch selection or batting stance this offseason.

A: Me too!  Hoping for more player deep dive content from Camerato and others this spring training.

Camerato says she agrees and hopes to do more once ST starts.