The Washington Nationals: Who the heck is that guy? Unknown and lesser known roster players Part III

There is a group of players we will see in the Washington Nationals’ 2017 spring training who are on the roster, but aren’t all that familiar to fans. The Nats will have added six new players to the 40-man roster after the 2016 season once Adam Lind is official, and the Nats acquired one more recent 40-man addition, along with a seventh player who was put on the 40-man after the 2015 season but has not debuted in the major leagues.

The Nationals 40-man roster is now filled to capacity with the acquisition of Adam Lind which now brings the number of players in Spring Training to 64 in total.

The following players are on the 40-man roster who you may not know:

Matt Skole

Skole once rated near the top of the Nats’ farm system. After he was selected in the fifth round of the 2011 draft, many analysts thought he’d be on the fast track to the major leagues. Instead, he is still waiting for his opportunity.

The 27-year-old Skole produced at Triple-A Syracuse last year, leading the team in home runs with 24 and putting together a solid .244/.337/.437 triple slash over 573 plate appearances, with 78 runs batted in. The left-handed hitter has earned plaudits for his pitch recognition, knowing well enough how to lay off bad pitches to take his share of walks (although he also strikes out a fair bit) and seeing good pitches to hit well enough to blast them out of the yard.

Skole’s development was slowed when he was injured on a play at first base in his second game of the 2013 season, and he ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery — unusual for a position player — on his left, non-throwing arm. Since then, he’s slipped off the top organizational prospect rankings altogether. But the Nats finally saw fit to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this winter, adding him to the 40-man roster.

Last year, Skole won a minor league Gold Glove award for his defensive play at first base. But he’s actually spent the majority of his playing career as a third baseman, where his defense is not as highly regarded. Still, that positional flexibility combined with a bat that has historically been hot in spring training could help him make an argument for the job of backup first baseman on the Nats’ bench this spring, but he is a long-shot with the acquisition of Adam Lind.

Rafael Bautista

Banish the thought of another Dominican outfielder with the same surname from your head. Not the hulking, power-hitting, fiery Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays, Rafael Bautista is a speed demon who looks like a prototypical leadoff hitter — provided he can keep getting on base above the Double-A level.

Bautista spent all of 2016 with Double-A Harrisburg, producing a triple slash typical of a slap hitter: .282/.344/.341, batting from the right side of the plate. He also led the Eastern League with 56 stolen bases, 12 more than his closest competitor, in 66 attempts. This kid is fast — really fast. He hit as many home runs, with four, as he did triples, and batted in 39 runs.

The Nats plucked Bautista out of the Dominican Republic as an international free agent in 2012. The 23-year-old has been quietly working his way through the minors ever since. Not as heralded as countryman Victor Robles, Bautista nonetheless ranks as the organization’s 14th-best prospect and was promoted to the 40-man roster after the 2016 season. He has spent most of his time in professional baseball patrolling center field, although he has also logged time in right field (and a handful of innings in left).

Bautista’s bank shot at making it onto the Opening Day roster would be as a fourth/fifth outfielder. His speed and baserunning smarts are enticing, but his bat skills and lack of experience above the Double-A level seem likely to hold him back for now. If his development continues in a positive direction, he could be a depth option for the Nats as the season progresses.

Jose Marmolejos

Formerly Jose Marmolejos-Diaz, he’s the two-time reigning Nationals Minor League Player of the Year. At 24, he’s also an imposing presence in the batter’s box at the A-ball level, which he broke above for the first time last season.

Marmolejos split his 2016 campaign between High-A Potomac, where he slashed an excellent .286/.381/.495, and Double-A Harrisburg, where he was effective but less gaudy with a .299/.333/.417 line. He’ll need to keep hitting well at the higher levels of the game to make an argument for a major league promotion, as he has little speed (two steals in five attempts last year) and is defensively limited.

The left-hitting, left-throwing Marmolejos has played the vast majority of his professional baseball career at first base, although he was tried out in left field at the rookie level. Since being signed out of the Dominican Republic at age 18 in 2011, his development has been rather slow, although he’s not quite past the age at which evaluators typically stop paying attention. Despite his fairly strong offensive numbers and Player of the Year hardware, he does not rank among the Nats’ top 30 prospects.

If Marmolejos has any shot at making the 25-man roster, it would be as a backup first baseman. If he stays in the minors, he might be in line for a cup of coffee in September, and there’s a scenario in which injuries could clear a path for him to make a debut before then. But while the Nats chose to add him to the 40-man roster this winter, he looks like a player who needs to spend more time proving himself at a higher level before he goes big league.

Raudy Read

Nats’ 24th-ranked prospect is also a product of the team’s Dominican baseball operations. Signed as a free agent in 2011, he’s now 23 years old and making some strides, although he has yet to play above the High-A level.

Read pounded out a .262/.324/.415 triple slash in 2016 with High-A Potomac: not bad for a catcher, but far from eye-catching, and not enough to earn him a look at Double-A Harrisburg last season. Still, that line represents his best offensive output since 2014 in the New York-Penn League, and his 51 RBI were the most of his career to date. He also demonstrated decent speed by catchers’ standards, swiping six bases in nine attempts — another career high.

Scouts regard Read as a catcher with considerable arm strength but not tremendous defensive skills as a catcher, and combined with his humdrum bat, it’s tempting to wonder whether he could be a candidate for the “Kenley Jansen treatment”. The Los Angeles Dodgers closer famously languished for years early in his career, after being signed as an international amateur free agent out of Curaçao, as an unexceptional minor league catcher until a farm director had what turned out to be an ingenious idea: put his arm to work on the other end of the 60-feet-6-inches and try him out in relief. It’s not a common path, but there is precedent, and since Read is the fifth catcher on the Nats’ 40-man roster, both his roster spot and his future in the organization appear rather tenuous at the moment.

made the 40-man roster this winter, preventing other teams from selecting him in the Rule 5 draft. Organizationally, he’s in line behind Double-A stalwart Spencer Kieboom and “catcher of the future” Pedro Severino, another young Dominican, who will likely open the year at Triple-A Syracuse. Even a spate of injuries to catchers could open the door to Jhonatan Solano rejoining the Nats’ roster (he made his major league debut with the team in 2012) before Read gets a look this spring. If he sticks as a catcher in the Washington organization, he will need more time to show he can hit and field well above A-ball.

Austin Voth

was quite a year for Voth, a right-hander drafted by the Nats in the fifth round in 2013 as a college pitcher. It was his first year playing at the Triple-A level, and he stuck there all season — to his disappointment, almost certainly, as the Nats repeatedly passed over him when they needed spot starters, notably choosing to purchase the contract of top prospect Lucas Giolito from Double-A Harrisburg for one late-June start despite it falling perfectly in line with Voth’s spot in the Syracuse Chiefs’ rotation. (Voth pitched badly that day, while Giolito got what would be the best outing that day of a disappointing up-and-down campaign with the Nats before he was shipped to the Chicago White Sox this winter.)

Voth actually had a very good year in the Triple-A Syracuse rotation: a 3.15 ERA over 157 innings pitched, with a 1.24 WHIP. He went on to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, further lengthening his innings in what could be preparation for a role in the more demanding rotation of the major league ballclub, and after a painful introduction to the league, he was able to adjust and finish out his fall with 15 straight scoreless innings for the Glendale Desert Dogs.

Historically a fastball-curveball pitcher, Voth began working a changeup into his repertoire last year, finally growing comfortable with it in Arizona. His curveball has also improved, both in terms of its break and Voth’s ability to spot it where he wants it, the pitcher told MASN’s Byron Kerr this winter. He ranks as the Nats’ sixth-best prospect. While he has never been a strikeout machine, his 2.33 strikeouts per walk ratio last season in Triple-A wasn’t awful, and for his career, he’s struck out 8.7 batters per nine innings despite that strikeout rate sliding a bit in his first year at the highest level of the minor leagues.

Barring some mishap, 2017 looks like it may well be Voth’s year. Added to the 40-man roster this winter and with the best Triple-A numbers in the organization last season, he looks a likely sixth starter, awaiting the call in Syracuse. If the Nats are serious about having a competition for the fifth spot in the major league rotation, as pitching coach Mike Maddux suggested earlier this winter, he could have an outside chance of bumping incumbent Joe Ross either into the bullpen or down to the minors, and although he hurled 186 2/3 innings total last year, it’s possible he could be in the mix for a bullpen role out of spring training. But even if the 24-year-old doesn’t break camp with the team, he should know he might not have long to wait before he’s wearing the curly W to work.

Austin Adams

Added to the Los Angeles Angels’ 40-man roster weeks before he was fenced to the Nats in the Danny Espinosa trade, Adams is the odd case of a prospect who wasn’t heralded enough to rank in the top 30 of even the Angels’ weak farm system, but in whom the organization saw enough promise to protect him from the Rule 5 draft — and the Nats liked enough to take as part of a two-player package for a longtime fixture of their major league roster.

Adams spent his 2016 at Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League, save for a three-inning rehab stint in the rookie Arizona League. He pitched to a strong 3.05 ERA over 44 1/3 innings in the Angels’ minor league system, with a 1.22 WHIP. His strikeout rate was outstanding at 12.8 batters per nine, although he issued his fair share of walks: 4.9 per nine. That 2.63 ratio of strikeouts to walks is pretty solid.

The Angels and Nats both clearly saw something in Adams that scouts might not be picking up, and there’s a good bet it’s his slider, which Taylor Blake Ward for InsideTheHalos described in 2015 as the best pitch in the entire Los Angeles system. He also throws his fastball in the low to mid-90s and can mix in a curveball and changeup as other secondary offerings. The 25-year-old right-hander has been deployed exclusively in relief since the Angels signed him as an eighth-round draft pick in 2012.

Adams has pitched all of 3 2/3 innings above Double-A, getting rocked over two games with Triple-A Salt Lake in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in 2015 and then spending 2016 back in the Texas League. That inexperience will work against him as the Nats winnow down their list of roster pitchers for the regular season. But with a 40-man roster spot and a promising 2016 season at Double-A behind him, Adams does figure to be a depth piece who could find himself making his major league debut if he can continue progressing in 2017.

Jimmy Cordero

Cordero is a Dominican right-hander with a triple-digit fastball — yes, as in 100-103 mph. So why the heck hasn’t he debuted in the majors yet?

The answer might lie in his durability. Cordero ended the season on the disabled list with a strain in his throwing shoulder, and he pitched only 27 innings in 2016. Or maybe it’s his underwhelming strikeout numbers despite that high heat; it could be a fluke of a fairly small sample size, or a byproduct of a right arm that wasn’t at its best, but he struck out just 6.3 batters per nine last season across four levels in the Philadelphia Phillies’ farm system. He ended the season with a 5.00 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP and just 1 1/3 innings pitched at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, inauspicious for a young pitcher who was added to Philadelphia’s 40-man roster after a solid 2015 season and whose heater looks like it could rival the best in baseball.

Cordero was traded to the Nats for a low-level pitching prospect after his disappointing 2016 campaign, just over a year after the Phillies picked him up from the Toronto Blue Jays as part of a package for Ben Revere. The Phillies might have decided to throw in the towel after his snake-bitten season, but the Nats may hope that pitching coach Mike Maddux can help build him into a serviceable major league reliever, strengthening his slider to give batters fits with an off-speed option up to 15 mph slower than his number-one. He does not rank among the Nats’ top 30 prospects.

The keys for Cordero will be staying healthy, developing consistency, and learning how to strike batters out at the higher levels. Until he can demonstrate he can do those things, he looks like a long shot to make the 25-man roster. Then again, it’s hard to send a 25-year-old who can regularly top the century mark over to the minor league side of camp, at least without giving him a long look first. With a bullpen that hasn’t been well established, Cordero is a wild card this spring.

Cordero, Skole, and Voth have been to major league camp before. The rest of the Rule 5 protectees — Bautista, Marmolejos, Read, and Adams — are first-timers. While they have roster spots, most likely won’t be a factor in competing for spots on the Opening Day slate, and some or all may find themselves back in minor league camp rather quickly.

Additionally, the Nats traded for a pitcher who has toiled in relative obscurity in the American League East for the past couple seasons, and may be unfamiliar to many fans.

Enny Romero

Romero, 26, is one of the hardest throwers in baseball, and his high-90s firepower comes from the left side. Yet he’s relatively unknown — why?

Signed in 2008 by the Tampa Bay Rays out of the Dominican Republic, Romero spent the 2016 season in the Rays’ bullpen. He struggled to find the zone despite his powerful stuff, walking 5.5 batters per nine (compared to 9.9 strikeouts per nine, for a 1.79 strikeouts-to-walk ratio), and ended up with a lousy 5.91 ERA and 1.53 WHIP over 45 2/3 innings. Those numbers aren’t far out of line with his career 5.27 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in the major leagues.

Romero’s bread and butter is his fastball, which sits in the mid- to upper 90s and touched 99 mph last season. He’ll mix in an occasional cutter and slider. His offerings were hit hard last season, with a 1.4 home runs per nine rate that was well above career (majors and minors) norms, so the Nats would like to see that rate come back down to Earth.

The Rays traded Romero to the Nats for a minor league pitcher to clear roster space, and he took the penultimate open spot on the 40-man roster for his new team. He’s out of options, so if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training — and despite his hot heater, that’s no guarantee with a career ERA above 5 and a staggering walk rate — he’ll have to pass through outright waivers to be sent back down to the minors. If he does make the team, he’ll give manager Dusty Baker a third lefty in the bullpen.

The Nats have a few other minor-leaguers who tasted the majors last season, a few of whom have more extensive experience to some degree, that will be in the mix for a spot on the Opening Day roster. (They’ll be more familiar to readers, so recaps will be much briefer.

Wilmer Difo:

The switch-hitter will turn 25 on Opening Day. A middle infielder who spent part of his winter ball campaign in his native Dominican Republic getting reps at third base, Difo is a fairly light hitter, but his speed, glovework, and bat have translated well enough that he’s appeared in parts of the past two major league seasons. He put up a .276/.364/.379 triple slash over 66 plate appearances in the majors last year, hitting his first major league home run, and roughly matched his minor league career line. That may be a sign he is ready to stick in the major leagues, although his bat and error-prone fielding likely restricts him to a bench role. While he has not played outfield professionally, he probably has the footspeed and arm strength to do it. He has an option year remaining.

Michael A. Taylor:

Once a very hot prospect, Taylor will turn 26 about a week before Opening Day, and he still doesn’t have much to show for his career. A right-handed hitter, Taylor has demonstrated solid pop, but he’s also very strikeout-prone and doesn’t hit for average: he slashed .231/.278/.376 in Washington last year over 237 plate appearances, but when he was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse midway through the season, he cratered further to a .205/.285/.291 batting line. Like Difo, he is fast and capable of making some outstanding defensive plays but also some unbelievable, boneheaded errors. He’s a favorite of Dusty Baker and a top contender for a bench spot, as an outfielder who can play all three positions. He is down to his last option year, having spent parts of the last three seasons (and virtually all of that 2015 season) in the majors.

Brian Goodwin:

Another ex-elite prospect (first-round draft pick of the Nats in 2011) who hasn’t lived up to his billing, the 26-year-old Goodwin has struggled through some injuries that have slowed his development, but he made his long-delayed major league debut last season. He added a .286/.318/.429 left-handed bat over 44 major league plate appearances to the Nats last year, earning a call-up after he slashed .280/.349/.438 over 492 plate appearances for Triple-A Syracuse. He can play all three outfield positions and has some speed, which allowed him to rip 15 bases in 18 attempts at Triple-A last season, although his fielding percentage in center field is a mediocre .975 despite him having the most experience at that position. Now ranked as the Nats’ 29th-best prospect, he’ll likely compete with Taylor for a role on the bench. He has one option year left, since he spent a couple of seasons on the 40-man roster before ever making his major league debut.

Pedro Severino:

The agile 23-year-old Dominican has actually shown more with his right-handed bat at the major league level than he ever has in the minors. In a small sample size of 34 plate appearances, he slashed .321/.441/.607 with Washington; he contributed just a .271/.316/.337 triple slash for Triple-A Syracuse, where he had 317 plate appearances. Severino, the 11th-ranked Washington prospect, has generally served as injury depth for the Nats’ major league catchers over the past couple of seasons, and with Derek Norris and Jose Lobaton set to form the Nats’ tandem at backstop, he’ll probably continue in that role this season. He has two option years left.

Spencer Kieboom:

He graduated from the ranks of minor-leaguers who haven’t made it to The Show last year when he got a pinch-hit appearance in the last game of the season (he walked and came around to score), although the right-hitting catcher, who will turn 26 next month, hasn’t yet suited up as a fielder for the major league team. Aside from that one major league plate appearance, Kieboom spent all of 2016 at Double-A Harrisburg, where he slashed a pretty paltry .230/.324/.314. It looks like he needs more time to see if his bat can develop at the upper levels of the game, as he was a fairly good hitter in A-ball, but he could get a chance to move up this season if there are injuries or incumbent major league catchers Norris or Lobaton tank badly. The Nats’ 30th-ranked prospect, he’s got two option years remaining.

A.J. Cole:

The right-handed starting pitcher has also fallen down the prospect charts, getting shelled in his major league debut back in 2015 (he made a spot start in the incredible game that saw the Nats come back from way behind to beat the Atlanta Braves, putting the visitors in an early hole) and earning his first major league win in a shaky turn in the rotation toward the end of the 2016 season. Cole’s 5.17 ERA over 38 1/3 innings as a Nat and 4.26 ERA over 124 2/3 innings as a Triple-A Syracuse Chief (his WHIP at both levels was 1.33) is neither good enough to guarantee him a spot on the Opening Day roster nor bad enough to remove him from consideration. Although he has almost exclusively worked as a starter since the Nats took him in the fourth round in the 2010 draft, if Cole has a big league future, it’s probably in long relief. One thing the 25-year-old Cole has always been good at is strikeouts, with a 9.2 K/9 rate last season in the majors and a career 8.5 K/9 across all levels. He figures to be strongly in the mix for a long relief role in the bullpen, likely remaining in Syracuse as starting depth if he doesn’t make the cut. He’s down to his last option year.

Trevor Gott:

A key piece of the Los Angeles Angels’ bullpen in 2015, the right-hander was fenced to the Nats in a trade for Yunel Escobar after that season — and then spent most of 2016 putting up middling numbers at Triple-A Syracuse. What happened? That’s what Nats management would like to find out this spring. Gott’s work was sandwiched around an almost two-month stint on the disabled list. Now 24, Gott posted a 4.57 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over 47 2/3 minor league innings, and in a smaller, six-inning sample size, he had a 1.50 ERA and 1.50 WHIP as a Nat. If he can rebound from a poor 2016 season, Gott will likely be in the conversation for a bullpen spot this year, although he might need some “observation time” at Triple-A to see if he can once again reassert himself with his mid-90s fastball; he has a curveball as well that might need a bit more polish. He does have two options left.

Koda Glover:

The eighth-round 2015 draft pick rocketed through the Nats’ farm system since being taken out of Oklahoma State University, making his major league debut last year. While he and his upper-90s fastball and vicious slider dominated the minor leagues to the tune of a 2.25 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 4.71 K/BB rate in 56 innings last season, the right-handed flamethrower stumbled to a 5.03 ERA in the majors, masking a pretty good 1.12 WHIP, over 19 2/3 innings. He did fairly well until manager Dusty Baker began using him in higher-leverage innings, where he crumpled; after the season, he said he had been trying to pitch through a torn labrum. If he can come back healthy this spring and show he can make good on his promising rise, he’s likely to break camp with the team, but if he continues to stumble or shows signs of poor health, it could compound any concerns management has about him and keep him in the minors to start the season. He has two options remaining.

Rafael Martin:

Offering a different look than most conventional strikeout pitchers, the 32-year-old — originally scouted out of the Mexican League by the Nats after the 2009 season — racks up the Ks despite a fastball that hovers around 90 mph. The right-hander spent most of 2016 as Triple-A Syracuse’s closer, earning 22 saves with a 4.56 ERA and 1.38 WHIP as his walk rate blew up from past seasons. While Martin looked like a dark horse for a right-handed specialist job heading into 2016 spring training, as 2017 spring training approaches, he doesn’t look like a serious contender for a bullpen role — but he could surprise. He’s down to his last option year.

Matt Grace:

The left-handed sinkerballer got a tryout in 2015, but after a couple of awful outings, he was sent back down to Triple-A Syracuse and hasn’t gotten much work in the majors since then. He showed fairly well in the minors with a 2.94 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 52 innings last year. He demonstrated excellent control last year, but with a 90-mph sinking fastball, he’s never struck out many. Now 28, he might be a dark horse for Enny Romero’s place as a third lefty on the major league roster this spring, but the safe money is on him remaining in Syracuse as injury depth. He has one option year remaining.

As always, most of the Nats’ Opening Day roster looks pretty well set. But there are a couple of bench spots and at least a couple of bullpen spots that have not been definitively claimed, and there is always the possibility of spring injuries or other issues spoiling Mike Rizzo and Dusty Baker’s best-laid plans.

Maybe the prospects step up and slot into the holes remaining on the team. Or maybe it’s time for the organizational players who have been on the fringes of the majors to shine. Keep an eye on these.

Here is your 2017 Washington Nationals spring training roster:

A.J. Cole Derek Norris
Austin Adams Jhonatan Solano
Austin Voth Jose Lobaton
Blake Treinen Pedro Severino
Braulio Lara Raudy Read
Derek Eitel Spencer Kieboom
Dustin Antolin
Erick Fedde
Gio Gonzalez Adam Lind
Jacob Turner Anthony Rendon
Jeremy Guthrie Clint Robinson
Jimmy Cordero Corban Joseph
Joe Nathan Daniel Murphy
Joe Ross Drew Ward
Koda Glover Emmanuel Burriss
Kyle McGowin Grant Green
Matt Albers Jose Marmolejos
Matt Grace Matt Skole
Max Scherzer Neftali Soto
Michael Broadway Ryan Zimmerman
Neal Cotts Stephen Drew
Nick Lee Trea Turner
Oliver Perez Wilmer Difo
Rafael Martin
Shawn Kelley Adam Eaton
Stephen Strasburg Andrew Stevenson
Tanner Roark Brandon Snyder
Taylor Hill Brian Goodwin
Tim Collins Bryce Harper
Trevor Gott Chris Heisey
Vance Worley Jayson Werth
Wander Suero Michael A. Taylor
Rafael Bautista
This entry was posted in Analysis. Bookmark the permalink.