Who the heck is that guy? A field guide to non-roster invitees Part I

The Nationals have 39 players on the 40-man roster today, and 24 non-roster-invitees who will be on the Spring Training roster which will add up to a total of 63 players in uniform.

Spring training is nearly upon us, and with the return of baseball (albeit in a slightly unreal exhibition form) invariably comes a bunch of guys wearing Washington Nationals jerseys and caps whom most fans have never heard of. They’re the non-roster invitees: free agents signed over the winter who accepted minor league deals, in many cases with opt-outs either toward the end of spring training, at some point mid-season, or both, along with a handful of minor league players (not on the 40-man roster) who are considered to be either prospects the team wants to evaluate or organizational players who help fill out the roster for a couple weeks.

Most of these guys will get a few hits, or rack up a few strikeouts, or make a few good plays, and then (maybe having gone three-for-fifteen or allowed four earned runs in six innings, or something like that) they’ll be gone, sent down to minor league camp or released to try to find their fortunes elsewhere. A few of them might stick around until just before the team goes north — an impressive prospect who does well enough that management wants more time to evaluate him, like Trea Turner last spring, or an organizational player who helps spread out the workload at a position, like Jhonatan Solano last spring, or a non-roster invitee who really impresses and makes a strong argument for a place on the team, like Sean Burnett last spring. And, if the cards fall right, one or two or three of them might even have their contracts purchased and find themselves at Nationals Stadium by March’s end, like Chris Heisey and Matt Belisle last year (and Dan Uggla and Clint Robinson in 2015).

So who are these sorta-Nats, the players we may or may not come to know and love this season? Let’s start by looking at the minor-leaguers who were in the organization last year and are getting a chance to play with the big boys, even though they don’t have spots on the 40-man roster.

This is Part I where we look at pitchers and the one catcher who are non-roster-invitees to Spring Training:

Jhonatan Solano

“The Onion” made his return to the Nats on a minor league deal with a spring training invite last year, and he got the same deal this season. Solano has never been much of a hitter, but he’s a serviceable backstop.

Although Solano was reportedly ready and waiting to be added to the roster after Wilson Ramos suffered a season-ending injury late in the 2016 season, the Nats ultimately did not need him, and so the Colombian spent his entire year catching for the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs. He recorded a miniscule .225/.286/.260 triple slash, with that .547 OPS earning a “very poor” ranking on the Bill James scale.

Defensively, Solano is sound. He’s never been the type of guy who can consistently mow down base-stealers, but there’s a reason he’s bounced in and out and back into the Nats organization (he made his major league debut with the Nats in 2012, was released after the 2014 season, and came back on board on a minors deal after spending the 2015 season in the Miami Marlins organization, where he made a brief return to the bigs and reunited with younger brother Donovan). He’s hardworking, flexible, and seemingly well-liked by teammates, and he’s been an unlikely fan favorite in both Washington and Syracuse.

Although Solano has made a few assorted appearances at second base in the minor leagues and once held down left field in a spring training game back in 2013, he’s definitely a catcher. The 31-year-old is not really auditioning for a bench role so much as he is rounding out the numbers, reducing the strain on the five catchers already on the 40-man roster and providing a veteran presence in major league camp. It would take a rash of injuries for him to make the team, owing to his anemic bat. But it will still be fun to see him this spring.

Wander Suero

An oft-overlooked minor prospect, Suero is a 25-year-old right-handed swing man who has posted pretty solid numbers over his journey through the Nats’ minor league system.

Last year, Suero worked exclusively in relief and spent his entire season with Double-A Harrisburg. Across 55 1/3 frames, he registered a 2.44 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP and struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings, walking 3.4 for a 2.29 strikeouts-to-walk ratio.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Suero has quietly progressed through the minor league ranks. It took him until 2014 to finally break above the rookie-ball level, but he’s climbed since then and gradually mastered each level at which he has pitched. His arsenal is fastball and curveball with an occasional changeup, maxing out in the mid-90s with the heater.

Keep an eye on Suero, as he’s an unsung guy with numbers and a development trend that suggest he could be one of those guys who makes his major league debut at some point soon despite almost nobody knowing who he is. He’s a dark horse for a spot in the Nats’ bullpen, although the smart money is on him being sent back to the minors to continue his development. Triple-A Syracuse looks like it could be his next stop.

Nick Lee

A former roster pitcher who was added to the 40-man after the 2015 season, Lee was outrighted from the roster to free up a space in 2016, but he’ll still get to participate in his second straight major league spring training camp.

Lee, a left-handed reliever who turned 26 last month, has yet to reach the majors. He spent the entirety of his 2016 season with Double-A Harrisburg, accumulating a 4.32 ERA with a nightmarish 1.70 WHIP in 50 innings pitched. He did show better in fall action, tallying a 1.54 ERA over 11 2/3 innings, but he again ended up with a 1.71 WHIP. It’s not that Lee gives up a ton of hits, it’s that he frequently loses the zone; his 7.6 BB/9 rate at Double-A was his worst since 2011 in the Gulf Coast League, after the Nats drafted him in the 18th round, and even his career rate of 5.3 walks per nine innings is rather on the high side. On the upshot, he strikes out close to 10 batters per nine, a trend which repeated itself last year.

Lee throws in the low to mid-90s and mixes in a nasty slider and occasional changeup, so it makes sense the Nats opted to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. But with his lack of command, which took a giant step backward this season, it also makes sense that he lost his roster spot and went unclaimed on outright waivers last season.

Since Lee has already been outrighted once, if he’s re-added to the Nats’ 40-man roster, it will have to be for good. That plus his walk rate make him an unlikely candidate to head north with the ballclub. But his results in Arizona were good last fall, even if his WHIP was not, so management might like to take a few games to observe Lee and see if there’s any way to harness that lefty firepower while tamping down on the walks.

Kyle McGowin

Before McGowin was traded to the Nats for Danny Espinosa, he ranked as the Los Angeles Angels’ 20th-best prospect. In the Nats’ slightly stronger farm system, he ranks outside the top 30, but he interests management enough to have received an invitation to major league spring training despite not being on the 40-man roster.

McGowin, 25, is a right-handed starting pitcher who hasn’t worked in relief since his first professional season with the Orem Owlz in the rookie Pioneer League, after the Angels drafted him in the fifth round in 2013. Across stints with Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Salt Lake last season, he posted a 5.83 ERA with a 1.56 WHIP — the bulk of the damage coming in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he logged 116 1/3 innings and was shellacked for a 6.11 ERA for Salt Lake.

McGowin would like to ride his slider, his go-to out pitch, to a debut in the major leagues. He also throws a mid-90s fastball and a changeup. His walk rate and strikeout rate are both pretty typical, but his devil has been hittability: he is, and he’ll have to fix that if he wants to take the next step.

Since he’s in the organization and lacks a roster spot, McGowin looks like rotational depth for the Nats this season; he’s unlikely to contend for the fifth spot in the major league rotation and has little prior experience coming out of the bullpen. But spring training will give the Nats their first chance to see what one of their new acquisitions has to offer.

Taylor Hill

The right-hander Hill was the Nats’ sixth-round draft pick in 2011 and has spent his entire professional career to date in the organization, debuting in the majors in 2014 but finding himself outrighted from the roster after the 2015 season. He was also a non-roster invitee to spring training last year, so he’s been in this position before.

Hill didn’t appear in the majors last season, but across 2014 and 2015, he’s tossed 21 innings of 6.00 ERA, 1.76 WHIP ball in The Show. He ate innings at Triple-A Syracuse last season — 154 2/3 of them, pitching to a 4.60 ERA with a not-so-bad 1.33 WHIP.

What holds Hill back has always been his mediocre stuff. He has struck out just 5.5 batters per nine innings for his career, and although he does a good job of limiting walks (career 1.9 per nine), it’s hard to be dominant when you rely on your defense for so many of your outs. The 27-year-old is a groundball pitcher with a sinker that sits in the low 90s, along with a slider and a changeup, which don’t offer much of a change in velocity with which hitters must reckon.

The uncharitable reading of Hill’s invitation to major league camp is that it’s a meaningless pat on the back for an organizational player who had to suffer the ignominy of being placed on outright waivers last winter, going unclaimed, and then carrying on in much the same way he always has in Triple-A last year, knowing he had very little chance of getting back to The Show. But to be fair to Hill, it was just a few short years ago he was a well-regarded prospect in the Nats’ farm system, earning a major league call-up with a 2.81 ERA over 144 Triple-A innings in 2014. Hill’s perpetual problem is the age-old crisis for so-called Quadruple-A (or Four-A) players: It’s not that he’s bad, it’s that he’s not as good as others. He’ll very likely start the year again in Syracuse and serve as organizational starting depth.

Erick Fedde

Fedde isn’t an organizational player. He’s a top pitching prospect, one of the most highly regarded in baseball, and he’s the second-ranked prospect in the Washington organization.

Last season, Fedde dominated South Atlantic League hitting to earn a promotion to Double-A Harrisburg. While with High-A Potomac, he contributed 91 2/3 innings with a 2.85 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. As a Harrisburg Senator, he had a little more difficulty, managing a 3.99 ERA over 29 1/3 innings with a 1.47 WHIP.  His ERA on the season was 3.12, with a 1.22 WHIP and an excellent 4.24 strikeouts per walk.

The Nats selected Fedde with the 18th overall draft pick in 2014, even though he had just undergone Tommy John surgery and was not a sure bet to return in force. But he came back strong in 2015 and continued to progress last season, at one point late in the season striking out 12 in an Eastern League tilt against the Bowie Baysox. He doesn’t rely on his low- to mid-90s fastball, making liberal use of a slider and changeup to rack up Ks.

Pitching coach Mike Maddux suggested earlier in the off-season that Fedde would indeed get a look in major league camp this spring and could even contend for a spot in the Nats’ rotation. It’s unlikely he’ll break camp with the team, but he could serve a role similar to Joe Ross in 2015 and Lucas Giolito in 2016, having his contract purchased if the need for a spot starter arises mid-season, especially if he continues to build on his success late in the Double-A season and becomes a consistent pitcher at that level.

Joining those established Washington minor-leaguers are a few newcomers, along with a handful of veterans who will likely be moving on if they can’t crack the 25-man roster at the end of spring training. These non-roster invitees, signed as free agents this winter, range in age from 25 to 42. Most of them are pitchers, competing for a position in the Nats’ rather incomplete bullpen, but there’s a handful of utility players mixed in as well, hoping to take advantage of an unsettled bench situation to win a job as a backup infielder with the big league club.

Derek Eitel

We’re onto the pitchers, now, with minor league journeyman Eitel. The right-handed swing man has been hanging around Triple-A leagues since 2014, but he has yet to get his big break and appear in a major league game.

Eitel pitched fairly well last year in a tough league, putting up a 3.67 ERA with a 1.38 WHIP with Triple-A El Paso, the top minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres, in the Pacific Coast League. He pitched a total 68 2/3 innings, his most since 2012, when he hurled 150 1/3 frames for Double-A Mobile in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system.

Walks have been a problem for Eitel in recent campaigns; he walked 5.2 batters per nine innings last year, 5.3 per nine in 2015, and 4.4 per nine in 2014. What has kept him afloat is a fairly high strikeout rate (9.3 per nine each of the past two seasons) and good movement that has kept his home run rate down. His slider is considered his best pitch, but he also has a cutter, and he throws in the low 90s — not a flamethrower by any means, but a guy who can mix things up well enough to punch out hitters, although his command is not very good.

Eitel, 29, was a 17th-round draft pick of the Diamondbacks back in 2011, the first ballplayer ever selected from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. He’s bounced around quite a bit, although he stuck in the Padres system all last year and put up solid numbers considering the PCL’s reputation as a league full of launching pads. Considering his history, it seems likely his deal isn’t the kind with a built-in opt-out date, so he could possibly serve as a depth piece all year at Triple-A Syracuse if he doesn’t crack the Opening Day roster. (Then again, it’s hard to know sometimes how these minor league contracts are structured.)

Neal Cotts

This is not Cotts’ first rodeo. The 36-year-old has been around professional baseball since 2001, when he was taken in the second round by the Oakland Athletics; he most recently appeared in the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2015.

Cotts spent all of his playing time last season in the minor leagues, pitching 44 2/3 frames, all at the Triple-A level, between the Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees, and Texas Rangers farm systems. He totaled a 3.83 ERA between the International and Pacific Coast league teams on which he played, with a 1.28 WHIP.

The veteran left-hander is not known for his velocity, throwing at about 90-91 mph. He’s a groundball pitcher who gets a lot of outs with his slider, although he mixes in a cutter as well. Walks were a problem early in his career, but since a three-year layoff that saw him finally return to professional baseball in 2012, he has largely kept them under control, with a solid strikeout rate.

Cotts is a former major-leaguer, and although his career is in its twilight, it’s likely he plans to opt out of his contract and try to find a spot elsewhere if he can’t make the Nats this spring. If he does break through, he could serve as an extra lefty arm, although the bullpen’s list of southpaws would look fairly crowded if he, probable setup man Sammy Solis, left-handed specialist Oliver Perez, and recently acquired fireballer Enny Romero all make the roster. He will likely be competing with the unproven Romero for a roster spot.

Jacob Turner

The youngest minor league free agent signed by the Nats with an invitation to spring training is also perhaps its most enigmatic.

Turner lit up the prospect charts after he was taken ninth overall by the Detroit Tigers in 2009, ranking in the top 30 for three straight years from 2010 to 2012. But since then…he simply hasn’t delivered on that top billing. A dismal 2016 season saw him pitch to a 6.57 ERA across 24 2/3 innings with the Chicago White Sox and a still-not-that-great 4.71 ERA in 107 innings with Triple-A Charlotte. (His WHIP in the majors: 1.99. At Triple-A: 1.44.)

In the minor leagues, Turner has almost exclusively worked as a starter, a role in which he has appeared in the majors as well (although the White Sox mostly used him in relief last year). His walk rate isn’t remarkably high, but he has never struck out many batters. If not for his former elite prospect billing, it would be pretty easy based on his career numbers to dismiss him as minor league filler, but his pedigree has intrigued a few teams enough to try him out in their major league rotations (he made his debut in 2011), never with particularly good results. His greatest success (since it’s all relative) did come in the NL East with the Miami Marlins, for whom he made 20 starts in 2013 with a decent 3.74 ERA, masking a fairly bad 1.44 WHIP — but he regressed the next year and hasn’t put up inspiring numbers since then.

The Nats are taking a flier on Turner, who is still pretty young and was once highly regarded for some reason, certainly. With sporadic appearances in the major leagues over the past few seasons, the right-hander certainly could decide to opt out of his minor league deal and try to find a spot on another team if he can’t show in spring training that he deserves a spot on Washington’s active roster. Alternatively, he could remain in the system as rotation depth in Triple-A Syracuse, potentially earning a call-up later in the season if the need arises, with top prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito traded away to Turner’s old team, the White Sox.

Braulio Lara

The non-roster invitee whose name most sounds like he spends his days matching wits with Mario and Luigi, Lara is a rather wild left-hander who has been slogging his way through the minors and Korean baseball in his quest to make it to The Show.

Lara divided time between the San Francisco Giants organization and the SK Wyverns last season. In Triple-A Sacramento, he posted a 3.90 ERA over 27 2/3 innings, working exclusively in relief, with a 1.45 WHIP. On the Incheon ballclub, he had a 6.70 ERA as a swing man, contributing 48 1/3 innings, with a rough 1.95 WHIP. (The KBO is infamous as an extreme hitters’ league, although a big part of that is the low quality of the pitching.)

Lara is 28 years old. The Dominican was scooped up as an international amateur by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 2008 and has rattled around ever since, never putting up good enough numbers to make the majors. He issues his fair share of walks — 4.5 batters per nine get a free ride across all levels for his career — and strikeouts are about average, at 8 batters per nine on the career.

Romero’s tenuous roster spot is probably the one Lara is gunning for, as one of a handful of southpaws among the non-roster invitees this spring. As a pitcher who hasn’t made it to the majors, he is probably unlikely to opt out of his contract if he doesn’t make the team, although since he spent part of the 2016 season in Korea, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he could seek another opportunity overseas if he feels he is unlikely to make it with the Nats.

Vance Worley

The Nats are familiar with Worley. The right-hander was brought up in the Philadelphia Phillies system and has also pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates, another National League team; and the Baltimore Orioles, the Nats’ interleague rivals.

It came as somewhat of a surprise when Worley took a minor league deal with Washington. Working as a swing man for Baltimore last season, he posted a rather good 3.53 ERA over 86 2/3 innings despite pitching in a very hitter-friendly division with one of the most hitter-friendly home parks in the major leagues. But that good topline result is undercut somewhat by a 1.37 WHIP and a 4.82 FIP, as well as an unimpressive 1.60 strikeouts per walk.

Worley is not a velo guy. His fastball sits in the high 80s. He’s not that tricky, with his primary off-speed offerings being a sinker and slider, but those pitches help him rack up groundball outs. He’s never issued a ton of walks, he just doesn’t strike out many, contributing to fairly mediocre peripherals.

Last season, the Nats gave a major league contract to another old adversary, Yusmeiro Petit, but with a vesting option looming and a clear sense that manager Dusty Baker didn’t trust the Venezuelan on the mound, his use was severely limited in the second half and he ended up a free agent this winter. That long reliever role Petit vacated has not been clearly filled, and Worley — who, at 29, is not nearly over the hill — figures to be strongly in the mix for the job this spring.

Tim Collins

“Tiny Tim” has been on an enforced baseball sabbatical, undergoing two Tommy John surgeries since 2014 that have kept him off the field. Just 27, the diminutive left-hander (he is listed at 5-foot-7, which may be generous) is working to get back on the big league mound this year.

Collins debuted with the Kansas City Royals in 2011 and was a staple of their bullpen through their World Series season in 2014, although injury meant he did not contribute to their championship campaign the following year. The southpaw pitched to a 3.86 ERA with a 1.38 WHIP over 21 seasons in 2014 with the Royals but actually pitched more innings at Triple-A Omaha, where he tallied a 2.76 ERA in 42 1/3 innings with a 0.99 WHIP.

It’s difficult to interpret much from numbers from three seasons ago, but Collins has always had difficult limiting walks. He has walked 5.2 batters per nine innings in his career in the majors. Counterweighting that somewhat is his strong strikeout rate of 9.4 batters per nine in the majors. His walk rate is lower across his minor league career, and his strikeout rate is substantially higher.

Who knows what to expect from Collins in 2017? He’s not very old, but it’s been a while since he threw a pitch in anger, and after two surgical reparations of his elbow, his mechanics and results could wind up being quite different from his last major league season, in which he had a three-pitch arsenal of fastball, curveball, and changeup with velocity sitting at about 90 mph on the heater. His best hope might be to prove he’s not done yet and either serve out a season at Triple-A Syracuse or jump ship and hope another organization sees something it likes. If he winds up in serious contention for a roster spot, he could give Romero a challenge as a fellow southpaw with the firepower to rack up strikeouts (even with average to below-average velocity, unlike the smoke-throwing Romero).

Jeremy Guthrie

At this point, it might be fair to say Guthrie is hanging onto baseball by his fingertips. The veteran right-hander turns 38 days after Opening Day, and he is seeking to return to the majors after an uninspiring journey through Triple-A baseball last season.

Guthrie split time between the San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins affiliates in the Pacific Coast League in 2016, totaling a dire 7.17 ERA with a 1.77 WHIP over 86 2/3 innings as a starting pitcher. It was his first full season out of the majors since 2003.

Guthrie is armed with a low-90s fastball, a changeup, and a sinker, although he’ll sprinkle in other pitches on occasion to keep batters on their toes. He has never been a strikeout artist, owning a downright shabby 5.3 K/9 rate for his major league career.

Guthrie was taken in the first round, 22nd overall, by the Cleveland Indians back in the 2002 draft. He charged quickly to the majors and stuck around for a while. This might well be his last best chance at getting back to The Show. He can opt out on March 27 if he doesn’t make the cut, according to reports. If he doesn’t opt out and doesn’t crack the Opening Day roster, he could be starting depth at Triple-A Syracuse in case of injuries.

Matt Albers

Only the hardest-hearted of baseball fans (or New York Mets fans, I guess) could have kept themselves from smiling when Albers just barely huffed safely into second base after cracking a double to the wall last season, came around to score the winning run, and ended up as the winning pitcher for the Chicago White Sox over the Mets in an extra-innings interleague game last season.

But don’t confuse a memorable moment with Albers having had a good season. He pitched 51 1/3 innings for the White Sox in 2016, and he wound up with a lousy 6.31 ERA and 1.68 WHIP. His ratio of strikeouts to walks was 1.58.

Albers doesn’t have as slow a fastball as some of these non-roster invitees, with an average velo of about 92 mph last year, but he has rarely struck out a lot of batters. However, the 34-year-old right-hander was excellent despite relatively few strikeouts in 2015, when he contributed 37 1/3 innings of 1.21 ERA, 1.07 WHIP ball to the White Sox.

After appearing with six major league teams to date, Albers hopes to make the Nats his seventh. He could be a dark horse in the mix for the role of long reliever, with management hoping his 2016 season was an aberration and Albers — a 23rd-round draft pick of the Houston Astros back in 2001, out of high school — can once again prove his worth on a big league mound. If he doesn’t get his chance in Washington, Albers can opt out on March 27, with a second opt-out date of June 1 if he chooses not to exercise the first one.

Dustin Antolin

One of the more obscure pitchers the Nats have invited to camp, Antolin actually worked his way into the baseball register last season, making a fairly disastrous two-inning debut for the Toronto Blue Jays before being sent back down to Triple-A Buffalo.

For Buffalo, Antolin put up 53 strong frames, with a 2.04 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. While he walked 4.8 batters per nine with the Triple-A club, up somewhat from previous campaigns at lower levels of the minor leagues, he also struck out 10.4 per nine.

Antolin’s arsenal consists of a low- to mid-90s fastball, a changeup, and a slider. His stuff has generally played well in the minors, although control has been an issue. It remains largely untested at the major league level.

Since being picked in the 11th round of the draft in 2008, Antolin has spent his entire professional baseball career to date in the Toronto organization, although the extent of his time spent pitching in Canada came in that one game last season in which he coughed up three runs on four hits. The 27-year-old Hawaiian right-hander is trying to break through with a new organization, and he could have an outside chance of cracking an unsettled bullpen as a strikeout pitcher with solid minor league numbers. If he doesn’t, he will presumably serve as relief depth at Triple-A Syracuse.

Mike Broadway

Broadway spent a season as Washington property in 2013, but it was the San Francisco Giants who gave him his first big break in 2015. Unfortunately, he didn’t pitch particularly well for the Giants, so now maybe his hope is to revitalize his career with a former team.

Broadway pitched just 5 1/3 innings with the Giants in 2016 and ended up giving up seven runs on nine hits. He spent much more time at Triple-A Sacramento, where he scratched out a 3.94 ERA with a 1.45 WHIP in 29 2/3 innings. And he took a short-lived detour to Japan, with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars getting six innings of 4.50 ERA, 1.50 WHIP ball out of him.

A right-handed pitcher with an unfortunately apropos surname, two of the seven hits Broadway gave up as a Giant and three of the seven hits he surrendered as a BayStar last year sailed into the stands. His combination of mid-90s fastball and slider have not led to very high strikeout numbers, with a career 6.8 K/9 in the majors and 7.5 K/9 in the minors. His walk rate is 3.2 per nine in both the majors and minors, so the ratio isn’t totally out of whack, but it’s nothing spectacular, by any means.

Broadway is a long shot for a ‘pen job after a rocky 22 2/3 career innings in the major leagues to date. He could end up spending some time back at Triple-A Syracuse if he doesn’t make it, or he might seek opportunities elsewhere in the league or once again venture to Asia to continue his baseball career.

Joe Nathan

One of the oldest active players in baseball and the oldest man on the Nats’ spring training roster, the 42-year-old Nathan spent 2016 working back from Tommy John surgery that kept him largely out of action the previous season.

Nathan spent time in both the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs organizations last year. In 6 1/3 innings in the major leagues, he had a clean 0.00 ERA, although his 1.42 WHIP over that small sample size surely isn’t what he bragged about to all his friends. With just a slightly larger 15 1/3-inning sample across Double-A and Triple-A teams, he had a 2.35 ERA with a 0.78 WHIP.

Despite his age and status as a Tommy John survivor, Nathan was still throwing in the low 90s last year. A onetime elite closer with 377 major league saves under his belt, he unsurprisingly has racked up the strikeouts throughout his career, with a 9.5 K/9 career rate in the majors that saw no dropoff whatsoever last season. He’s got a changeup that he will use, but his main weapon is the four-seamer.

While Nathan is closer to the age at which people start getting cheaper tickets to get into movies than he is to the age at which most major-leaguers make their debuts, he is a contender for a major league bullpen role. The Nats will have to make a decision on him sooner than they will on many others: he can opt out on March 24 if he so chooses.

While it’s possible more players will be added and evaluated before Opening Day (like Reed Johnson in 2015, signing at the end of March and ending up on the Opening Day roster), the general pattern for non-roster invitees is toward subtraction. But they won’t be the only players who find themselves voted off the island as general manager Mike Rizzo works toward assembling a 25-man squad.

Not technically non-roster invitees because, well, they are on the roster: players on the 40-man who have yet to make their major league debuts. The Nats added five of them to the 40-man ahead of the Rule 5 draft this winter, protecting them from being scooped up by other teams. Additionally, the Nats traded this winter for two players who were on their former teams’ 40-man rosters but haven’t appeared in the majors.

The best advice, of course, is to get to know these guys — but don’t get too attached. Baseball is a tough, tough, business.

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