Nationals Arm Race

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

End of May 2024 Rotation Check-Ins


DJ Herz is making some noise in AAA; could he get his MLB debut soon? Photo via Wash Post

Here’s the End of May check-ins on all our rotations, from MLB to FCL.

Each team will have the same items: current rotation, changes in the last month, observations, next guy to get promoted (if its in the minors), next guy to get cut, and then a few comments about relievers.

Important links for this analysis:

We’ll start with the Majors.

Rotation as of 5/31/24: Irvin, Gore, Williams, Parker, Corbin

Changes since end of April: none. Grey remains on the DL, but Cavalli has started rehabbing.

Rotation Observations: We continue to get unexpectedly solid production out of the rotation, given the fact that our opening day starter and #1 pitching prospect remain on the DL. Williams continues to be one of the best pitchers in the league, with a seasonal ERA of 2.22 and and even better 1.60 ERA for his six starts in May. He’s having a dream “contract year” season and hopefully fetches us a halfway decent prospect at the trade deadline, if not sooner (more on that later). Gore continues to come into his own, putting up a 2.60 ERA in his five May starts. Irvine’s May numbers were even better. Parker came back down to earth a bit in May after his stellar debut. Only Corbin continues to be awful, but that’s not really anything that we didn’t already know. The rotation collectively is sits 3rd in fWAR and 5th in FIP, and should only get better if and when we get back Grey and Cavalli.

Next guy to get cut/demoted: Corbin. Same guy as at the end of April. One has to think that Corbin’s tenure will come to an end when Grey or Cavalli is ready to come back. They just can’t keep the deadweight on the roster anymore at that point. The harder question then becomes who is the NEXT guy to make way… say Cavalli comes back and Corbin gets cut. Then who do you demote for Grey? Right now its looking like Parker, but then they’d have no LHP starters. Maybe the timing will workout with a Williams trade to make room.

Bullpen comments: The pen generally continues to be a source of strength. You can’t ask for much more. Our four leading relievers all have ERAs under 3.00, and Floro has kept his under 1.00 through May. It’s hard to get decent returns for relievers, but I hope they can cash in a couple of these guys at the trade deadline.

AAA Rochester

Rotation as of 5/31/24: Adon, Rutledge, Watkins, Herz, Ward

Changes since end of April: None. Gsellman got a couple of spot starts, and middle reliever Zeuch got one spot start in a “bullpen game,” otherwise very little change so far in AAA.

Rotation Observations: None of the five starters had an especially awesome May to be honest. The best of them was Adon, who had a 4.13 ERA for the month to lower his seasonal ERA down to 5.63. That’s good to see, since he’s holding onto a 40-man roster spot. Watkins soaked up innings and that seems to be what the 31 yr old’s role will be this year. Herz walked nearly a guy an inning but got 3 wins in 5 starts by virtue of a .182 BAA and he remains probably the best of the AAA rotation. Rutledge’s stats were meh; 4.85 ERA. 1.50 whip. Nothing impressive there, though i’ll bet he remains atop the pecking order to come up for DH spot starts. Ward really struggled in May, putting up a 6.65 ERA in five starts.

Next guy to get Promoted: Herz, as he was last month. We have a surplus of healthy starters right now so it won’t likely happen, but next opportunity i’d like to see Herz out there.

Next guy to get cut/demoted: Ward. He wouldn’t get cut, but I wonder how long he is for the rotation at this point. He turned 27 in January, he’s just not cutting it as a starter, and maybe he should move back to relief at some point. The team drug him all of 2023 on their active roster so they could keep him, but more and more that’s looking like it was all to save a middle reliever.

Bullpen comments: 40-man member La Sorsa had a stellar May and is a great option to call up if they need a bullpen arm. The only other 40-man arm in AAA is Willingham, who continues to be mediocre and may be in some trouble of keeping his roster spot once the team starts trading away its cache of relievers and they realize that non-40-man guys in AAA like Aldonis Medina (zero ER for the month) are worth a shot. Most of the guys in AAA bullpen had ERAs that started with a 5 or 6 for the month.

AA Harrisburg

Rotation as of 5/31/24: Luckham, Cuevas, Alvarez, Henry, Lord

Changes since end of April: Lara promoted up, replacing Henry, who hit the DL. Knowles made three spot starts in May but he also sits on the DL as we speak.

Rotation Observations: The AA rotation featured several stellar performances this month. Brad Lord, who was promoted up in April, went 5-0 with a 0.87 ERA in 5 starts, including a complete game shutout. Andry Lara, also recently promoted, made three starts and went 2-0 with a 1.47 ERA. That’s awesome to see, especially since he’s just 21 and had been somewhat mired in A ball the last couple of seasons while slowly watching his prospect status wither away. Lastly, Andrew Alvarez: 6 starts, 4 wins, a CG shutout with 2.72 ERA and a sub 1.00 whip.

On the down side, Luckham isn’t getting the swing and miss he probably needs to keep moving forward, and batters hit north of .300 against him to balloon his ERA to 4.88. Same with Cuevas, who is getting shredded right now to the tune of a 7.50 ERA in May. Knowles’ stats weren’t great before hitting the DL, and Henry’s one start went just 3 innings, so not much to go on for our former top 10 prospect.

Next guy to get Promoted: Alvarez. He was last years Nats POTY in the minors, he turns 25 in a couple of weeks and he’s a lefty. Might be time to see what he can do in AAA and see if he’s anything more than an org guy. I’d say Lord based on his May, but his April was so bad that now his season numbers are just average. Plus, there’s not a lot of room on the AAA rotation right now.

Next guy to get cut/demoted: Luckham. But there’s a bit of rope here. They don’t have a ton invested in him as a 13th rounder, and he doesn’t turn 25 until the off season, but its put up or shut up time.

Bullpen comments: The bullpen just lost its best arm in Ribalta, recently promoted to AAA. Walters also got bumped up after putting up solid AA numbers. To replace them they promoted both Peterson and Grissom Jr from High-A, so too early to tell. Former closer Jack Sinclair was solid all month. Former flavor of the month Tyler Schoff got shelled this month: 6.75 ERA. Rule5 pick Daison Acosta and Holden Powell were both great out of the pen for the month and it’ll be interesting to see who gets the closer job. I’d like to see Powell (a relatively high draft pick) perform and contribute at the higher levels.

High-A Wilmington

Rotation as of 5/31/24: Atencio, Caceres, Young, Cornelio, Theophile

Changes since end of April: Lara got promoted, replaced by Atencio. Cavalli is there as of 5/31 doing rehab starts and stealing starts.

Rotation Observations: Not a lot to brag about in Wilmington’s rotation in May. The best performer was the newest guy Atencio, who in 3 starts had a 3.38 ERA and 14/3 K/BB. That’s decent for the 2018 IFA signing. Cornelio continues to put up mediocre numbers: 4.44 ERA for the month. Good enough to stick around, but not to earn any promotions. Caceres and Theophile both had ERAs in the 6s, and Caceres’ K/BB was just 14/12 in 23 innings. Young’s line was pretty similar; not a ton of swing and miss.

Seth Shuman, a sneaky good starter who’s been hurt forever, is now doing rehab starts in the FCL and could return here soon, likely bumping one of the lesser performers.

Next guy to get Promoted: Nobody. Last month’s candidate Lara indeed got promoted, but nobody here is really making a case to move up. Atencio is performing the best but he just got promoted into this rotation and needs some time.

Next guy to get cut/demoted: Last month was Caceres; it still is. He’s 24, too old for the level, and is just not cutting it. Theophile may start worrying too.

Bullpen comments: Several bullpen arms had solid months. Matt Cronin got popped up from XST and has been solid; well he should be, being 26 and formerly being on the 40-man roster. He needs to get back to AAA. Wander Arias, a rule5 pick this past off season, was stellar and probably should be getting moved up soon. Carlos Romero gave up just 1 run in 11 innings. There’s a lot of crooked numbers elsewhere in this pen, and If we had more healthy arms i could see some moving up.


Rotation as of 5/31/24: Sthele, Sanchez, Susana, Davis, Sykora, Polanco

Changes since End of April: Atencio promoted, replaced by Sykora and Polanco as they seem to be going to a 6-man rotation.

Rotation Observations: I’m treating this rotation as a 6-man rotation, even if what they really seem to be doing is giving certain arms a week’s rest each 6-day series. Nonetheless, we have 6 guys getting regular starts, so that’s what we’ll look at. Susana has been awful. 5 starts in May, 8.05 ERA, 1.84 whip. I’m not sure what the next step is with him, but his defenders are running out of excuses as to why he continues to underperform with triple-digit heat. Sykora’s debut so far has been great: 4.23 ERA but his peripherals are solid: 23/6 K/BB in 16IP, 1.20 ERA, .215 BAA. That’s great for our big-bonus prep draftee from last year, and its nice to see a high school Nats pick faring well. Marc Davis has had a solid May under the radar given the two higher-profile kids in this rotation.

On the down side, Travis Sthele, 12th rounder last year, has not been good. ERA north of 10, batters are hitting nearly .400 against him. Bryan Sanchez is only slightly less bad; he had an 8/14 K/BB ratio for the month but managed to keep the runs down as compared to Sthele. Polanco isn’t lighting it up in his spot starts but at least he’s not as bad as these guys.

Reminder of the Low-A DL: they almost have enough arms for TWO more rotations sitting on their DL: Amaral, Ramirez, Tepper, Aldonis, Tolman, Sullivan, Agostini, and Marquez, along with a couple middle relievers on the full season DL. That’s a lot of pitching depth. A couple of these guys are/were decent prospects too, which is one of the reasons we have so little pitching depth in our system.

Next guy to get Promoted: Davis, maybe? Sykora has the best numbers but there’s no way they’re putting him in High-A unless he nohits the league for a month.

Next guy to get cut/demoted: Sthele’s days seem numbered in the rotation.

Bullpen comments: they have three guys in the back of the bullpen lighting it up right now in Bubba Hall, Thomas Schultz, and Matthew Bollenbacher. That’s a 9th rounder and two NDFAs, for you keeping score at home. Nothing like getting solid pro pitchers for $10k. Mason Denaburg has actually been serviceable this month in a long-man role: 3.78 ERA in 9 appearances. Maybe they give him another whirl in the rotation; has to be better than what they’re getting from Sthele, Sanchez, or Polanco.

Rookie/FCL Nationals

Rotation as of 5/31/24: Colon, Portorreal, Camilio Sanchez, Brayan Romero, “Farias”

Changes since End of April: none: the season started in May.

Rotation Observations: Despite it being the FCL, which normally is a playground for rehabbing players and XST stalwarts, the FCL rotation seems like it’s been pretty consistent since the season opened. A couple of the starts early on seemed like “tandem starts” where one guy went 3 innings then another guy went 3 innings, but the rotation has settled into what you see above.

So far, Colon has looked the best: 2.37 ERA albeit with not a ton of K/9 power. Portorreal’s ERA is decent but his BAA is .324; that’s not going to last. Romero’s peripherals are better than his ERA is, and lastly Sanchez has a 2.00 whip and a 9.50 ERA. Farias is in quotes as a member of the rotation b/c he made one start, got shelled, and hasn’t been seen since. His spot has been filled with rehabbers since: Brzycky, Cavalli, and Shuman have all made one start in FCL on rehab stints.

Interesting observation; on the FCL’s opening day, every single arm on the roster was an IFA. Every single one. They’ve added three MLFAs in the past couple of weeks who were domestic players, but it’s interesting to see how they’re using this roster right now. The lion’s share of the position players (14 of the 18 guys) are also IFAs. I attribute this to the fact that we don’t draft a ton of prep kids, so basically all our 2023 draft picks are starting at Low-A or higher.

Next guy to get Promoted: nobody; the two guys pitching “decent” are 18 and 19 respectively right now, and they’ll spend the whole season in the FCL.

Next guy to get cut/demoted: Camilio Sanchez was an older 2022 IFA out of Panama, for not a ton of money, and he may get cut loose if he doesn’t turn it around.

Bullpen comments: All these arms are such small sample sizes (3-4IP each) its hard to make any judgements on the slew of arms in FCL.

That’s it for May 2024. Soon we’ll have the DSL roster to contend with.

Written by Todd Boss

June 2nd, 2024 at 10:44 am

16 Responses to 'End of May 2024 Rotation Check-Ins'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'End of May 2024 Rotation Check-Ins'.

  1. Majors: the sooner they trade Trevor Williams, the more easily I will breathe. He has some legit value right now, but he fell off a cliff in the second half last season. There’s no reason to wait two more months to trade him.

    Gore has stepped up his game, and Irvin and Parker continue to look like found-gold legit MLB starters. All of this is huge news for the rebuild. Do these three plus Gray and Cavalli make up a contending rotation for coming seasons? I’m skeptical, but considering the struggle for starting pitching that every team has, the Nats seem closer to a full set than we thought they might be.

    AAA: honestly, every one of these starters is ready to be sent to the bullpen except Herz. It will be interesting, after the inevitable Trevor W trade to see if the Nats move Corbin aside to give Herz some MLB innings.

    AA: Lord and Alvarez are having amazing seasons. The question becomes how much one believes in the ceilings for guys who have never been highly rated. But they certainly look ready to be given a chance to replace the dreck in the Rochester rotation. Among guys who have been significant “prospects,” Lara finally looks to be living up to his considerable reputation.

    A+: not much of note here, other than the Lara and Grissom promotions. It will be interesting to see if Cronin can fully find traction.

    A: Susana’s last outing: 5 IP, 1 hit, 1 walk, 9 Ks. Fingers crossed. Don’t forget that he’s only a month older than Sykora. Also, despite Susana’s 7.47 ERA, there’s a staggering difference from that to his FIP (3.45) and xFIP (3.63). As these numbers indicate, he’s had unbelievably bad “luck,” with a .427 BABIP against. He seems primed for a turnaround. Sykora has even better FIP (2.97) and xFIP (2.86) numbers.


    2 Jun 24 at 1:39 pm

  2. Parker’s next start will be interesting after for the first time this year, he struggled with command.

    I don’t think Gray or Cavalli will be ready for at least a month

    agree Ward is not a starter, I’d move him to the pen and give his spot to Lord. after the results he’s had you have to see if the stuff plays at higher levels


    3 Jun 24 at 9:57 am

  3. On the prospect front, KLaw has his first in-season top 50 update (Athletic subscription required):

    Wood leaps from #19 preseason to #5 now, Crews holds steady at #7 (with curiously very little questioning about him), and House rises from #53 to #39 despite an increasingly long slump.


    3 Jun 24 at 11:32 am

  4. Darvish and Musgrove both hit the IL in SD, as has Blake Snell in SF. The market for Trevor Williams is expanding rapidly. Preller and Rizzo have more than a bit of history doing deals.


    3 Jun 24 at 11:37 am

  5. Barring injuries and setbacks, I expect the default plan for the majors is to replace Corbin with the first of Gray / Cavalli (probably Cavalli) and then go to the 6-man rotation if the second of the two are ready before Williams is traded. Most likely the overlap would only be a couple of weeks.

    They could option Cavalli if he doesn’t look all the way ready (it’s just one start, but his fastball command was off last week), but I’m pretty sure Gray will get his rotation slot back regardless of his results during rehab.

    One open question to me is: at what level of “in contention” do we not trade Williams? I suppose it’s all offer dependent, but assuming the expected good-but-not-great return (say, one prospect who would slot into our system at 15th one who would slot in at 25th), do we ever keep him for our own unlikely run at a wildcard?

    I’m not really a believer in our chances this year, but it’s fun to remain in contention as long as possible. Also, unless he’s part of a bigger package, it’s not likely we’re talking about a prospect return that’s going to make or break the rebuild. The biggest downside may be complicating Gray and Cavalli’s return. I think you really need to see substantial innings from all 5 of our young starters, so you know who should be bumped if/when we sign Burnes or Fried or whoever.

    But at the same time, how do you flip rentals when you’re a game or two away from the playoffs? I don’t know. I could really see it going either way.


    3 Jun 24 at 12:17 pm

  6. Ironically, the Nats’ path to the playoffs could depend on a cleverly orchestrated “rebuild”. The foundations are in place. The Nats’ most valuable hitter (Young), and 4th most valuable pitcher (Parker) are a big reason why they’re kind of in contention at the moment. Meanwhile, the guys dragging us down (Rosario, Meneses, Ruiz and Rainey – the 4 least valuable players) could – theoretically – be easily replaced with Wood, literally any bat at DH, Millas and Willingham/Medina/insertotherreliever, respectively. Those 4 players are collectively worth -2.3 WAR, so we wouldn’t necessarily need Wood and others to bat .300 with 20 HR. All he and the others would need to do is be replacement level and be worth 0.0 WAR for a pretty significant improvement to the team overall.

    It’s a really interesting scenario. Usually, the plan is to acquire vets at the deadline to propel you into the playoffs. Yet, in this case we could do it without mortgaging any of the future, but rather moving it ahead slightly.

    Sure, it could totally backfire, and Wood could perform like Jackson Holliday or Wyatt Langford. But there’s minimal risk, that was always the plan for this season if everything went well. But it also could go very right…


    3 Jun 24 at 1:39 pm

  7. @Will – I think that plan sounds really interesting, though it could get tricky. Rosario has been our worst outfielder over the season, but in May he was our best bat (driven by one amazing week, but that counts too). Winker was replacement level in May. It’s not like either is a huge part of this team’s success, even short term.

    Maybe the way to thread the needle between competing and gathering more prospects is to let June play out. If we’re out of it (like, 4 games back and behind 3 teams for WC3), we trade all the rentals and go from there. But if we’re still in quasi-contention, you just move whichever of Rosario or Winker looks like a better trade chip, and get your FV40 lottery tickets. Then you bring up Wood and make the other one of those two the 4th OF.

    That feels pretty clean, and unless you’re planning on holding Wood down until he’s ROY eligible next year, it doesn’t cost the team anything long term. Even if Wood underperforms to start, you’re still “going for it” and being near enough to contention that these decisions matter is already a victory given our expectations for the season.

    For 1B/DH, though, I just don’t think there are good options in the system. Instead of making a roster change, I’d use the DH as a rotating half-day off for the all the average or better bats and just cut Meneses’s playing time down to spelling Gallo at first. Another thought is that if there ends up being surplus 1B or DH available at the deadline, maybe we deal a fringe OF prospect (like TJ White or Brenner Cox, for example) for a rental of our own, assuming we’re still within a couple games or so. It would meaningfully “end the rebuild” at a low cost to system.

    For the pitchers though, I think the way to play it is really dependent on the actual offers for Williams, Harvey, Finnegan, Floro and Law. I could see us trading all or none of that group. (Well, if we aren’t in contention, we will trade Williams and Floro for whatever we can get. But, other than that, I think all the options are on the table.)


    3 Jun 24 at 2:25 pm

  8. “Playoffs? You’re talking to me about playoffs! Playoffs?”

    Even the folks at NatsTalk don’t seem very convinced. On first blush I’m not either. It doesn’t seem plausible if we’re being realistic. But man, when you look at how screwed up the rest of the NL is . . .

    Of the non-division leaders, the Braves (+40) and the Padres (+11) are the only teams with a positive run differential, with the Snakes breaking even. Only the Braves have surrendered fewer runs than the Nats. But only the Cards and the dead-last Marlins have scored fewer. Really, only the Braves seem like a wild card lock. The Cards currently hold a wild card with a -41 run diff. Wow.

    Of the teams ahead of the Nats, the Padres just lost two of their top starting pitchers, and the Giants lost one.

    The Pads and D-Backs are run-scoring beasts and should be considered the wild card favorites along with the Braves if they can find any pitching help. The Cards can’t score enough, and Giants can’t prevent enough. The Cubs are more mediocre than they should be.

    For the Nats, obviously it would be possible to believe a little more if Wood was healthy and Lipscomb was hitting at AAA. House clearly isn’t coming up this season, and Crews would be a stretch. Cavalli is closer to a return than Gray, but as SMS notes, he doesn’t look to be fully in form yet.

    If the Nats do trade Williams, the return could be expected to be something similar as it was for Jeimer: two underperforming prospects ranked in the teens on the trading team’s list. Herz has blossomed of course, but that’s never guaranteed. Made looks more functional than he did last summer, but he still looks like a no-power bench guy at best.

    If it were me, I’d still make that trade. But if you can tell me that Wood will heal quickly, be promoted, and put up Soto’s rookie numbers, then I’ll stand pat and buy some popcorn for the show.


    3 Jun 24 at 2:58 pm

  9. Haha, for sure. I mean, I’m far from convinced myself, even given the state of the rest of the league. But playing competitive games in September is fun and profitable and good for the team’s development even if we eventually fall short.

    Re Williams specifically, I agree with your expected return and I think I do that trade even in the thick of a 4 way tie for WC3. But it feels like we’re pretty close to the line, and if the offers are a little bit worse that Candy’s, maybe we don’t.


    3 Jun 24 at 3:48 pm

  10. Nats and Playoffs. Believe it or not, even at 27-32 they’re only 1.5 games back of the last WC spot. Then again, the Mets at 25-35 are only 4 back. Technically there’s only 2 NL teams that are completely OUT of the WC race right now (Colorado and Miami). So, we need some more time for sure.

    Its possible. The fans would revolt if, come the end of July, if we were hovering at .500 and a game out of the WC spot and we gutted the roster.

    Todd Boss

    4 Jun 24 at 9:41 am

  11. I don’t think anyone is saying gut the roster. Trevor Williams is the only one with any semi-substantial value. If someone wants to give us 50 cents for Winker when they call up Wood, I’ll take it. I’d hang onto the bullpen pieces, at least until we see how things play out. They may have a bit of value by trade deadline time.

    I’m just afraid that Williams will follow last year’s trend, turn into a pumpkin, and have no value.


    4 Jun 24 at 12:03 pm

  12. I just think it’s a spectrum. It matters if we’re 1 game back or 4, and it matters if we’re in a 3-way race or a 6-way race. And it matters what the specific deal is.

    If you flip Winker for lottery tickets and call up Wood, it looks like “going for it” even if it doesn’t work out. Plus you get the lottery tickets.

    If Cavalli and Gray aren’t ready and flipping Williams means keeping Corbin in the rotation, that looks like giving up. You better get at least the Candy deal, and there still will and should be some static from the fans.

    But this roster isn’t built in a way that could be plausibly gutted without trading players with 3+ years of control. And that is definitely not going to happen.


    4 Jun 24 at 12:16 pm

  13. Well, so much for the “Trevor Williams – trade or no?” discussion. He goes to the IL with a forearm flexor tendon strain and DJ Herz gets his shot tonight. I don’t think that he’s ready, but go get ’em, kid!

    John C.

    4 Jun 24 at 1:28 pm

  14. Trevor Williams: Yup. Unbeleivable. Same injury that has kept Josiah Grey out for 2 months. Herz was probably the ‘best’ option of all remaining 40-man starters (Herz, Adon, Rutledge, Ward, Henry), nor do I think it was worth adding any retread LR/spot starter not on our 40-man currently at AAA (Gsellman and Watkins), nor is anyone at AA even remotely ready.

    This probably crushes Williams’ trade value.

    Todd Boss

    4 Jun 24 at 2:22 pm

  15. What’s the best case scenario for a flexor strain?

    We’ve all seen it portend TJ often enough, and with Gray it seems like he (hopefully) avoided that worst case, but is still missing 3 months of time.

    Is it ever just like 20 or 30 days down?

    Because I totally agree that if Williams has Gray’s timeline, or even slightly faster, and he’s maybe in rehab or just finishing it by Jul 31, then we aren’t getting anyone who’d rank in our top 30 for Williams, and there’d be no point to trading him at all.

    I do think if he’s back in time to have 3 starts, and they’re solid, his return won’t suffer much. But I just don’t know if that timelime is plausible at all, given the injury.

    And, Todd, I pretty much completely agree with your take on Herz. He’s the callup who gives us the best chance to win tonight. I might have preferred one of the other guys just to not mess with Herz’s development, but the other three would be on short rest, though, so they weren’t really even options.


    4 Jun 24 at 3:13 pm

  16. @SMS yeah, not for nothing, but tonight is Herz’ exact turn in the rotation; he was exactly on sync with Williams (i try to keep the rotation orders correct and in line with each other on the Big Board).

    Todd Boss

    4 Jun 24 at 4:50 pm

Leave a Reply