Nationals Arm Race

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

April end of Month check-in on the Rotations


Jake Bennett might be the best looking starter prospect in the system right now. Photo from OSU

Nearly every year I get excited when we see who the rotations are at the various full-season levels, and then every year i … run out of time to check back in. I used to do “rotation review ” posts after every pass through the rotations, giving good/bad/holding serve notifications, but that was just way, way too much work for what’s an “in my spare time” endeavor.

But here we are, 2023, and we’ve seen a small burst of competence out of the big club, plus some points of interest elsewhere, so i thought i’d do a “state of the rotation” after a few turns through.

Important links for this analysis:

We’ll start with the Majors.

Rotation: Corbin, Grey, Gore, Williams, Kuhl

Changes since opening day: none, amazingly. We all knew Strasburg was going to start on the DL, and Cavalli’s injury was the dagger of spring, but through the first month the MLB rotation has not deviated. Pretty amazing for a last place team that is depending on two near-rookies and an NRI.

Observations: I don’t think anyone is surprised that Corbin’s ERA is nearly 6.00. He’s yet to have what i’d call a “good” outing despite two quality starts. He remains in the rotation thanks to his salary and a lack of better options. Kuhl’s 7.36 ERA (as of this writing) is not gonna get it done, especially for an NRI. He has to shape up and fast. Williams signed a 2 year deal so he’s not going anywhere fast, and he’s holding stead right at a league average 101 ERA+ through 5 starts. Grey’s fip slightly flatters his era, but still through 5 starts he’s got solid numbers and looks to improve on last year. For me the big win so far is the performance of Gore, who completely shut down the Mets this week and seems to improve start to start. So far in 2023, he’s looking like the real deal and is looking entirely like the trade bounty he was meant to be last year.

Next guy to get cut: Kuhl. NRI, no investment, and a 7 ERA spells doom. Is there a AAA replacement? No there isn’t (read next section), so one or two more crap starts and, if it were me, i’d be putting Ward into the rotation.

AAA Rochester:

Rotation: Adon, Irvin, Espino, Abbott, Peralta

Changes since Opening Day: Espino hit the DL right after his first start, which then gave starts to Kilome and T.Romero, both of whom were awful. Kilome posted a 19+ ERA in 2 starts and was released, while Romero posted a 9+ ERA in 2 starts/4 games and is on the DL.

Of course, Rochester is missing two names in particular that we all WANTED to see there, in Henry and Tetreault, but they’re hurt, so instead we get the two 2022 LRs from the big club Abbott and Espino taking AAA starts.

Observations; I think we all know what we have in Espino and Abbott at this point: 7th/8th bullpen arms who can soak up in long relief, even be decent as relievers, but who cannot be effective starters. Really, the same with Peralta, who has 10yrs of MLB experience at this point. I’m less interested in these guys as I am in the two prospects. Adon was awful with a capital-A last year, so 2023 is an important bounce back season, and so far, he’s doing ok; a mid 4-s Era, a bit too many base runners, but otherwise an improvement. Our other important arm here is Irvin; he’s got similar numbers to Irvin but his ERA is a point higher due to some unluckiness. Unfortunately, neither guy is doing a sub 2.00 dominance in AAA like we’d like to see. So, we’ll move on.

Next guy to get promoted: nobody: not one of the AAA starters is making any case right now to push for a promotion and take the place of Kuhl.

Next guy to get demoted or released: Abbott and Romero. Abbott is on the 40man and might be the first guy off if the team needs a slot, based on his current AAA ERA. Romero’s putting more than 2runners on per inning and it seems like he’s short for the team if they need a spot.

AA Harrisburg:

Rotation: Rutledge, Parker, Herrera (might be LR), Troop, Cuevas

Changes since Opening Day: None. AA has several guys who used to be starters (Cate, Gausch, Evan Lee, Carrillo) who I thought might be in the rotation, but clearly have all now been made relievers. Cate is the most amazing fall; he was the opening day starter in AA two years ago, now he’s a loogy. I’m slightly surprised Lee isn’t being looked at as a starter, given his big arm, and especially since one of the 5 guys in this rotation is clearly an org guy/innings eater in Herrera, but that’s just me.

Observations: Troop and Herrera are 26 and 27 respectively, both have AAA time (Herrera was in AAA in 2016!), and the presence of both in AA is probably an indictment of our pitching development lately. Clearly instead of these two you’d like to see Cate and Carrera in the rotation … but they just couldn’t cut it. So, lets focus on the prospects. The big name here is Rutledge, who struggled in Low-A, got on the 40-man and now sits in AA. So far, not bad for Rutledge, who’s had some bad luck and a lot of IR-S (Inherited Runners – Scored) from his relievers to inflate his ERA. I’m a huge Rutledge critic, but i like what i’ve seen so far. Parker may have finally matriculated to a level he can’t handle and has an ERA north of 7. He also can’t find the plate and has 16 walks in 14 IPs; hard to win when you’re giving up a baserunner an inning before anybody gets a hit. Cuevas’ breakout 2022 has come to a screeching halt in AA as well, with the highest BAA of any starter.

Next guy to get promoted: nobody: If they absolutely had to pull someone up from AA i’d probably go with Troop, who has a .216 BAA despite his ERA/FIP/WHIP peripherals.

Next guy to get demoted or released: Cuevas is only 21 and is struggling; i could see him going back to High-A soon if there was someone to take his spot.

High-A Wilmington

Rotation: Lara, Saenz, Huff, Theophile, Alvarez

Changes since Opening Day: Luckham has taken two starts, seemingly in place of Theophile, and it remains to be seen how it shakes out. Former SPs Knowles and Hernandez have been bumped to the bullpen

Observations: Luckham has been the high performer so far, a 2022 15th rounder who was used in middle relief last year. It is early, but his stuff looks great so far and he’s seemingly bumped a more valued prospect out of the rotation for now. Huff in the rotation was a surprise to this observer; he was never used as a starter last year, but that may just be due to it being his draft year as well. He’s getting hit around plenty though so far unfortunately, with a BAA in the .325 range. Andry Lara is the highest profile prospect here, by far, and he continues to underwhelm. The guy has a live arm with easy mid 90s speed, but doesn’t get the punch outs you’d expect. He’s got a solid BAA and has good control (4 walks in 18ip), but not enough swing and miss. I’m sure the Nats brass is just as frustrated. Saenz keeps on treading water, not impressing but not jeopardizing his rotation spot. Theophile only has 2 starts and 9IP as of this writing, too early to pass any judgement.

Next guy to get promoted: Probably Luckham, but i’d want to see him for half a season first.

Next guy to get demoted or released: Huff seems likely to get dumped back to the bullpen soon, if the team wants to replace him in the rotation and go with the 5 from 6 as discussed earlier.

Low-A Fredericksburg

Rotation: Bennett, Susana, Atencio, Cornelio, Denaburg

Changes since Opening Day: Atencio is probably more of a LR, and the team has given two other starts to clearly relievers when weather issues or last minute changes occur (we saw one of those this week with Susana getting yanked last minute). Aldonis seems like he’s in the mix too, perhaps at the expense of Denaburg. Read on.

Observations: Several big-time important prospects to the team here. Susana’s line so far: big arm, lots of Ks, can’t find the plate (10 walks in 9 innings), and got skipped in the rotation for an unknown reason recently. Not good. Bennett, our 2nd rounder in 2022, has been very solid, presenting like the classy veteran college pitcher we like. 21/5 K/BB in 15 innings, 1.11 whip, sub 3.00 ERA. So far so good for Bennett. We havn’t really seen a lot of Aldonis, but he was solid last year in Low-A and has been solid in his first two low-A starts this year. A good beginning, and something I hope he builds on. 2022 7th rounder Cornelio has gotten whacked around, but he’s not going anywhere. Lastly we come to Denaburg, who has looked awful in 2 starts and might be at the end of his string. He’s 23, already has passed through rule-5, and I’m not sure if he can get anybody out anymore.

Next guy to get promoted: Bennett

Next guy to get demoted or released: Denaburg. At some point you have to cut bait on a 1st rounder and admit defeat. I know the Nats have a hard time with this, especially when they see his big, glaring signing bonus. But he just has never come back from his arm injuries.

Written by Todd Boss

April 28th, 2023 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Nats in General

6 Responses to 'April end of Month check-in on the Rotations'

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  1. I agree that the goal should be to get Ward starting but with no way to stretch him out they’d have to get creative. one option would be to use him as a opener with Espino ready to follow. that requires the other starters to get deeper into games so to as not to tax the bullpen.


    1 May 23 at 10:24 am

  2. Keith Law scouts Skenes and Crews:

    Law says Crews has the better case to go 1-1 than Skenes – mainly b/c he thinks Crews has a potential 70-grade hit tool.

    Of Crews v. Langford: “I think there’s a good argument for Florida’s Wyatt Langford as the actual best prospect, as he’s a better athlete and better runner who is also performing (.382/.528/.725 through Friday’s games) in the SEC, playing around a rather unfortunate injury. Crews offers more safety, and perhaps no less upside because of the potential for a 70 hit tool, and if you pass on him despite the season he’s having, you’ll face questions forever about how you could do so.”

    Of Skenes: “There is nobody close to Skenes among pitchers in this class, and the fact that he throws strikes with this kind of stuff, even if you only give him credit for being 96-99 mph, would make him 1-1 in most years. Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole would top out at 100 mph, with better breaking stuff than Skenes, and they went 1-1. Mark Appel had less stuff and he went first overall, as well. I think it’s fair to project a No. 1 starter ceiling for Skenes with some projection to the changeup and the obvious hope that he stays healthy, which some guys have with this kind of stuff (Cole and Justin Verlander come to mind as comparable pitchers).”

    I understand the idea that an OF is inherently less risky than a starting pitcher. And I’ll stipulate that the Cole and Strasburg drafts did not feature a college hitter like Crews (much less one like Langford). But if you look at the MLB draft in the pre-slot days, the very highest bonuses across all drafts went to elite college pitchers – the McDonald, Prior, Strasburg types. This suggests that we shouldn’t necessarily assume PIT will take Crews – the Skenes types *used* to be the most highly valued draft prospects and may still be.

    Anyway, the Nats are in a good spot. They are guaranteed to end up with Crews or Skenes (or Langford, if that’s who they want). I *think* I’m pulling for Skenes, but there will be a nice present under the tree no matter what.


    2 May 23 at 1:06 pm

  3. Derek, I just posted some of the same stuff from KLaw at Nats Prospects, LOL. Law also noted that front office folks are telling him that they think the Pirates are in on Crews. Pirate sites seem to indicate that the fans want Crews as well.

    The Nats obviously have a greater need for Skenes than they do Crews (or Langford). (Langford was Law’s preseason #1, and I think at FG as well, but it’s really hard now to see him being picked ahead of Crews.) I share the injury concerns about any pitcher right now . . . but you’ve also got to have pitching. More worrisome to me is that I’m not really sure that Skenes has a third above-average pitch.

    As we’ve discussed, if the Pirates take Skenes, the Nats really don’t need outfielders, but general consensus seems to be that they couldn’t/shouldn’t pass up Crews.


    2 May 23 at 1:47 pm

  4. And hi Todd, welcome back from witness protection! Maybe you just needed extended spring training . . .

    On the last post, I predicted that Kuhl would be awful, and sadly, he’s been even worse than I expected. Rizzo loves his vets, so don’t be surprised if Peralta gets the next look.

    I said before the season that only five major-leaguers really matter on the current squad: Gray, Gore, Ruiz, Abrams, and Garcia. Robles started the season trying to argue that he should still be a part of the conversation, but he’s since reverted to the mean.

    Gray has been the best story of the season thus far. The trade for Gray and Ruiz looks a lot better now than it did at times last season. Gore was brilliant against the Mets, not so much last night, but all in all, I’ll take a 3.77 ERA with 11.3 K9. For point of reference, Gore is just six weeks older than Rutledge and a lot farther along in the process toward being good.

    What pitching prospects really matter in the minors? The A list of starters would be Adon, Rutledge, Lara, Susana, and Bennett, with a B list of Irvin and maybe Parker and a couple of others. Parker is probably bound for relief eventually, although right now he’s A LOT more effective out of the windup than the stretch. I sure hope they didn’t ruin Adon with last season’s ridiculous rush to the majors. None of the others is setting the world on fire, although one would think that Bennett will be the first among them to be promoted. Susana got scratched from his start last week, leading to a collective “oh no.”


    2 May 23 at 2:05 pm

  5. I’m also curious about what they’ve got in Thad Ward, but it will be challenging to stretch him out since he can’t be sent to the minors. They could start by increasing him to two or three innings at a time in relief . . . which they’re needing every time that Kuhl pitches, and most of the time that Corbin does.


    2 May 23 at 9:25 pm

  6. . . . and Jake Irvin being called up to start for the big club tonight. Considering his not-great performance in his brief time at AAA, it seems too early. I guess “early” can be relative, since he’s already 26, but a 5.64 ERA this season and 4.79 last year at AA just don’t scream “ready to be a major-league starter” to me.


    3 May 23 at 1:20 pm

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