Who the heck is that guy? New faces on the #Nats for 2021!

Photo by Andrew Lang for TalkNats

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

At last, spring training is upon us. Today is the first day of workouts at West Palm Beach. While we’re still waiting to find out how many games our cheap, wretched, Orioles-owned regional sports network will deign to televise before the start of the regular season, we are sure to spend some time puzzling over who that new guy at first base is, who is this strange pitcher, who is that behind the plate, and so on and so forth.

To help you out in your quest to identify these mystery players, as we do every year, we present this field guide to the new faces in Washington Nationals spring camp.

The past three weeks or so aside, general manager Mike Rizzo has had a busy offseason, and you never know — he may yet have more moves to come. But for now, here’s our rundown of the new players you’ll see in West Palm Beach this spring, from the roster staples of the future to the non-roster invitees we might only see once or twice before they vanish in a puff of smoke.

#3 — Hernán Pérez

Hernán Pérez

2020 stats (majors): 3 G, 6 PA, .167 AVG, .167 OBP, .167 SLG, 0 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (majors): 91 G, 246 PA, .228 AVG, .262 OBP, .379 SLG, 8 HR, 5/6 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: 2B
Secondary positions: 3B, SS, LF, RF

Up until now, Pérez’s claim to fame in the annals of Washington Nationals history is that the Milwaukee Brewers put him in to pitch an inning in a July 2017 game that was well out of hand by then, and Andrew Stevenson notched his first major league hit off him.

Pérez is one of several utilitymen Rizzo has signed this winter to compete for a bench spot. Pérez’s versatility helps him; he’s played every position except catcher in his major league career. His bat does not; he’s a career .667 OPS hitter whose best season at the plate came in 2016, when he hit .272/.302/.428 for the Brewers.

These light-hitting, play-anywhere types are a dime a dozen, and the Nats always bring at least a couple to spring training. Expect to see Pérez get innings around the diamond. He’s played more third base than any other position (1241 innings, compared to 966⅓ at second base, the position with which he has the next-most experience), so it will be interesting to watch if the Nats use him mostly as a third baseman or just play him all over. Realistically, with his thin offensive resume and the fact he barely played in 2020, it seems improbable he could push Carter Kieboom at third. Like Kieboom, he hits from the right side as well.

Given his years of major league experience, it is possible Pérez has an opt-out built into his contract. Then again, he spent nearly all of 2020 at the Chicago Cubs’ alternate training site, including after he was designated for assignment and outrighted after a brief call-up midway through the season. Pérez could figure as organizational depth and could position himself to be the first call-up if Kieboom is injured, whether to take Kieboom’s job or backfill Josh Harrison’s spot on the bench.

If Pérez is still in camp by March 26, he’ll get to celebrate his 30th birthday with the Nats. His low jersey number suggests he has a pretty decent chance, for those who like to read into such things.

#6 — Alex Avila

Alex Avila

2020 stats (majors): 23 G, 62 PA, .184 AVG, .355 OBP, .286 SLG, 81 OPS+, 1 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (minors): 63 G, 201 PA, .207 AVG, .353 OBP, .421 SLG, 100 OPS+, 9 HR, 1/1 SB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? Yes
Primary position: C
Secondary position: 1B

Avila has a weird profile for a hitter that we’re going to see a few more times on this rundown of new players. While historically, Rizzo has sought out players who hit for a high average, he seems to have zeroed in this winter on its companion stat: on-base percentage. While Avila has never hit for a high average, he works counts and will take his walks; his career average is .235 against a .348 career OBP.

How Avila will be deployed remains to be seen. He’s worked with three of the Nats’ five projected starting pitchers before: Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, and Jon Lester. In particular, he caught Scherzer a lot when both were in Detroit. Handling a whopping 661 innings pitched by Mad Max, Avila is by far the catcher with whom Scherzer has the most experience, with Wilson Ramos a very distant second.

Also working in favor of Avila getting a lot of playing time is his left-handed bat. While true platoons at the catcher position are rare, since starting pitchers often have a preference for who catches them and many managers defer to their wishes, a L/R platoon with Yan Gomes would actually have Avila starting on most days. While we’re not expecting to see that in 2021, especially with Gomes coming off a relatively strong season at the plate, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Avila as Scherzer’s personal catcher this season.

Something to watch with Avila will be his power. Known as a slugging catcher, Avila’s power receded in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, as he hit just one home run in 62 plate appearances. The Nats will doubtless be hoping to see some sock from their new catcher in the early going. Otherwise, the Gomes/Avila tandem could prove to be significantly less of a home run threat than the previous pairing of Gomes and Kurt Suzuki.

Don’t expect to see a whole lot of Avila in spring action. The Nats will work to ease both Avila and Gomes into a regular rotation, splitting their time in early preseason play with other catchers, including non-roster invitees. While it may not be a top consideration right now, the Nats also know both Avila and Gomes’ contracts are set to expire at the end of the season, so this could be an opportunity for someone to make an impression as the Nats’ “catcher of the future.”

#9 — Adrián Sanchez

Adrián Sanchez

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (majors): 28 G, 32 PA, .226 AVG, .250 OBP, .226 SLG, 0 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (minors): 69 G, 282 PA, .316 AVG, .365 OBP, .469 SLG, 6 HR, 11/16 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: SS
Secondary positions: 2B, 3B

We should all know Adrián Sanchez by now. Few Nats fans had him on their radar when the team suffered a dizzying succession of injuries in 2017, but Sanchez was the “next man up.”

Unfortunately, Sanchez’s two most memorable moments to date were his first career plate appearance, when he took what appeared to be ball four well outside with the bases loaded and two outs to tie the game in the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals, but was called out on strikes; and an August 2017 plate appearance against the New York Mets in which Jeurys Familia hit him in the chest with a fastball and he went down in a heap, but after the ump ruled it was a swing and not a hit-by-pitch, he got back up and hit an RBI single before being pulled for a pinch-runner.

2020 was the first season since then in which Sanchez did not get any playing time with the Nats, and he was designated for assignment after the season before re-signing on a minors pact. He’s burned through his minor league options, which makes him significantly less useful as depth, but the Nats have passed him through waivers before and he’s been loyal to the only major league organization he has known. [Ed.: hweiner3 notes that Sanchez tore his right Achilles tendon in summer camp and required surgery, which certainly accounts for his lack of playing time in 2020 and may account for his willingness to sign back with the Nats.]

Now 30, with a career .612 OPS and without a roster spot, Sanchez is not evidently in camp to contend for a spot. But organizational higher-ups have always liked him; he’s not a major league-caliber player, but he’s always done whatever he has asked, and he’s good enough and experienced enough to actually be a pretty dominant hitter in the minor leagues, as he was at Double-A Harrisburg in 2019.

Expect to see Sanchez playing some shortstop and a bit of second and third base early on in camp before he is sent over to the minors side. He will likely fill an infield spot for Triple-A Rochester or Double-A Harrisburg during the season, unless an opportunity arises for him outside the organization.

#12 — Kyle Schwarber

Kyle Schwarber

2020 stats (majors): 59 G, 224 PA, .188 AVG, .308 OBP, .393 SLG, 88 OPS+, 11 HR, 1/1 SB
2019 stats (majors): 155 G, 610 PA, .250 AVG, .339 OBP, .531 SLG, 122 OPS+, 38 HR, 2/5 SB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: LF
Secondary position: C

Who is Kyle Schwarber? We’re about to find out.

The Nats were excited enough about adding the burly left fielder (and occasional catcher) to their roster that they paid him $10 million on a one-year guarantee, more than he was slated to earn if the Chicago Cubs had offered him arbitration. That payday for Schwarber came despite a lackluster 2020 campaign in which he hit well below the Mendoza line and only mustered up two home runs in September, a perplexing power outage for one of the game’s premier hairy-chested sluggers.

Schwarber actually looked like he was on track for a decent 2020 as of September 1. Through the end of August, he owned a very respectable .228/.333/.500 triple slash, not quite on the pace of his 2019 campaign but also not that far off, either. But then he hit a pitiful .130/.272/.234 in September, with only two home runs and just three multi-hit games, finishing the season barely clinging to an OPS north of .700. What happened? Clearly, the Nats are confident that’s not the Schwarber they have added to the roster.

Throughout his career, Schwarber has been considered something of a man without a position. Used as both a catcher and a left fielder in the minor leagues and his rookie season, Schwarber has appeared almost exclusively in left field since 2017, with just sporadic cameos behind the plate. The Nats are unlikely to move him out of left field, and Schwarber has publicly spoken to his desire to improve as a left fielder and provide value to his team at the position.

Schwarber has had his share of struggles staying in shape. While his physical strength has never been in question, the same cannot be said of his conditioning. Schwarber made a point of slimming down before the 2018 season, and the questions about his weight that dogged him earlier in his career seem to have mostly subsided since then. Nevertheless, Schwarber’s conditioning will be something to watch this spring and into the season.

#19 — Josh Bell

Josh Bell

2020 stats (majors): 57 G, 223 PA, .226 AVG, .305 OBP, .364 SLG, 83 OPS+, 8 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (majors): 143 G, 613 PA, .277 AVG, .367 OBP, .569 SLG, 142 OPS+, 37 HR, 0/1 SB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? Yes
Primary position: 1B
Secondary position: N/A

Who is Josh Bell? We’re about to find out.

Bell was a pretty good first baseman who had a breakout year at age 26 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Those 2019 stats are gaudy. He was easily the best hitter on the woebegone Pirates, earned an All-Star nod, and just generally terrorized NL Central pitching, amassing a mighty 77 extra-base hits on the season and driving in 116 runs.

But in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Bell just never really got going. He settled into a bit of a groove in September, as he hit a tolerable .244/.351/.402 on the month, easily his best marks of the season. But even that was well off his torrid 2019 pace.

Bell’s defense has always been a question mark, and that was the one area in which he did make modest strides in 2020. Still a below-average fielder at his position, Bell nonetheless showed marked improvement according to several metrics…although the Pirates did find themselves often taking advantage of the designated hitter rule to keep Bell’s glove in his locker. Bell has said all the right things about working to master first base, and the Nats were clearly willing to give up a couple of top prospects to get him, even knowing there likely will be no DH in the National League this year. His performance in the field will be something to watch this spring.

The Nats traded young pitchers Eddy Yean and Wil Crowe to Pittsburgh hoping that Bell would fit the bill as protection for Juan Soto in the lineup. He’s under team control through the 2022 season, although the Nats do have the option of non-tendering him next winter if they don’t feel he’s worth paying. Hopefully, Bell will make that decision moot by getting back to his 2019 form — maybe even with the benefit of better fielding at first base — and bashing his way into the postseason.

#20 — Welington Castillo

Welington Castillo

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (majors): 72 G, 251 PA, .209 AVG, .267 OBP, .417 SLG, 12 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (minors): 5 G, 21 PA, .238 AVG, .238 OBP, .429 SLG, 1 HR, 0/0 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: C
Secondary position: N/A

The man they call Beef has been well-traveled throughout his career, and after an abortive 2020 season with the Nats — he was invited to spring training, then briefly to summer camp when the season was about to resume, before he opted out of playing — it wouldn’t have been surprising to see him move on to his seventh major league organization.

Instead, Castillo is back on a minors deal, although he looks like less of a player to watch now than he did before the Nats signed Alex Avila to a major league deal. Before Avila came aboard, Castillo looked like he might be the guy to partner with Yan Gomes behind the plate. And if a catcher is injured this spring, he could still be the first man up.

Castillo was briefly one of the more feared offensive catchers in the game, rapping out a .282/.813 slash line with the Baltimore Orioles in 2017 while throwing out a whopping 49% of attempted base-stealers from behind the plate. Coincidentally, since he was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs early in the 2018 season, he hasn’t been nearly as good. Before he was suspended that year, he was working on a .267/.774 season at the plate. He came back in September and hit .241/.571 over his last 16 games. He was probably just rusty!

While Castillo’s salad days are behind him, he still figures as a reliable veteran option for the Nats, who have been waiting nervously for the oft-injured Gomes to get hurt and have instead seen him as the picture of health for the past two seasons. The law of averages suggests that Gomes will have to go on the injured list again someday, so the Nats would like to be able to bring someone up who owns a bat when they do. Defensively, Castillo is a little more of a mixed bag, but he’s not a great liability.

The Nats probably don’t need to keep Castillo around into the season, though. They have Raudy Read, Tres Barrera, and Jakson Reetz as internal options, plus the younger Blake Swihart on a minors deal, and Barrera is already on the 40-man roster. Castillo may also be able to elect free agency if he doesn’t make the team, although it’s unclear how much leverage he had in contract negotiations after opting out of the 2020 season. Either way, this might be Castillo’s one and only opportunity to crack Washington’s roster, and he probably needs something to go wrong in order for that to happen. So…it’s tough to root for that.

#25 — Yasmany Tomás

Yasmany Tomás

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (majors): 4 G, 6 PA, .000 AVG, .000 OBP, .000 SLG, 0 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (minors): 102 G, 431 PA, .301 AVG, .341 OBP, .590 SLG, 29 HR, 2/2 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: LF
Secondary position: RF

Comes now the cautionary tale for giving a fat contract to a player with no major league experience, longtime Arizona Diamondbacks and Reno Aces outfielder Yasmany Tomás.

The Diamondbacks loved Tomás and threw $68.5 million over six years at him after he defected from Cuba, where he had hit .290/.849 for the country’s most prestigious baseball team, Industriales. That was in late 2014. Tomás had a difficult adjustment to the majors, hitting .273/.701 in his rookie season in 2015, then broke out in 2016 with a very good .272/.820 slash line and 31 home runs, although his defense in both left and right field rated poorly.

It was, as they say, all downhill from there. Tomás was wracked by injuries in 2017, only appearing in 47 games before undergoing season-ending surgery. The Diamondbacks sent him to Triple-A Reno to start his 2018 season, but they never called him back up, as he hit .262/.745 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League over 106 games that season. He spent nearly all of 2019 back at Reno, getting a four-game cup of coffee in which he went 0-for-6 with three strikeouts. Tomás spent the 2020 season at the alternate training site before becoming a free agent and signing a minors deal with the Nats this winter.

Tomás and his position in spring training for the Nats really calls to mind another former righty-swinging ex-corner outfield prospect who never managed to build on his early flashes of promise. The Nats brought Moises Sierra, once a prized Toronto Blue Jays prospect, to camp in 2018 after he had been out of the majors for three seasons. He ended up playing in 27 games with the Nats, but they designated him for assignment after he hit just .167/.420 while striking out in one-third of his plate appearances. So there’s hope for Tomás…just maybe not a lot of it.

Sketchy comparisons aside, the 30-year-old Tomás could get some real run as a bench candidate this spring. As constructed, the team is short on right-handed power, and while it’s been a long time since Tomás looked like a major league ballplayer, he had a more than solid year at Triple-A two seasons ago, and Rizzo might be gambling that he wore out his welcome in Arizona before he really got an opportunity to show his quality. If Tomás underwhelms, the Nats don’t have much to lose by moving on from him.

#26 — Brandon Snyder

Brandon Snyder

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 117 G, 458 PA, .257 AVG, .314 OBP, .537 SLG, 31 HR, 3/4 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: 3B
Secondary positions: C, 1B, 2B, LF, RF

Back for yet another major league spring training, Snyder bounced around a lot of organizations before landing with the Nats, but it feels at this point like he’s a longtime organizational player. He first latched on with the Nats for spring training in 2017, then spent the next year in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, then returned to the Nats. This will be his third consecutive appearance in the Nats’ major league camp, and his fourth overall.

Snyder is the platonic ideal of the “Quadruple-A” player. He mashes Triple-A pitching, and he has for years. He’s played parts of ten seasons at the Triple-A level and has 120 career Triple-A home runs, with a career .773 OPS at Triple-A, averaging time playing for teams in both the pitcher-friendly International League and the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. But he’s never been able to establish himself as a major league ballplayer. He played two games with the Rays in 2018, his last taste of the major leagues. His last extended run was 37 games with the Atlanta Braves in 2016, in which he was almost exclusively used as a pinch-hitter.

The knock on Snyder has always been that while he has massive power and has played all nine positions in his professional career (including ten appearances in relief in the minor leagues), he strikes out a lot and walks practically never. In 211 career plate appearances at the major league level dating back to 2010, he has walked seven times and struck out 67. That is…not great.

Snyder is obviously comfortable with the Nats, and the Nats have enjoyed having him in camp. He’s a good spring training player, because he can play any position and he hits minor league pitching quite well. Snyder also earned plaudits at the alternate training site last year for his veteran leadership and preparation, including getting more reps as a catcher in case the Nats needed him. That may be the most interesting aspect of his inclusion on the list of non-roster invitees, as he is listed as both a catcher and utility player.

If Snyder is a “spring star” again, it would surprise no one. When the music stops, though, expect Snyder to report to Rochester — yet another new Triple-A city in which he can become a fan favorite and smash a lot of dingers. There are worse reasons to play the game, after all.

#27 — Jordy Mercer

Jordy Mercer

2020 stats (majors): 9 G, 22 PA, .200 AVG, .273 OBP, .200 SLG, 0 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (majors): 74 G, 271 PA, .270 AVG, .310 OBP, .438 SLG, 9 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (minors): 16 G, 66 PA, .175 AVG, .288 OBP, .228 SLG, 0 HR, 0/0 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: SS
Secondary position: 2B

Mercer is one of the more interesting fliers Rizzo has taken in the offseason. His career numbers and team role over the years call to mind Stephen Drew, a less-heralded Rizzo pickup before spring training in 2016 who ended up being the team’s most reliable bench player that year and stuck around for a subsequent season before retiring.

Unlike Drew, Mercer bats right-handed, which does somewhat keep him from standing out. His resume is a little thinner, too. Although comparable hitters over their careers, Drew had more playing time, and on better teams. So while Mercer fits a mold for Rizzo, it doesn’t necessarily follow that he will be 2021’s Stephen Drew.

Mercer rattled around alternate training sites in 2020. The Detroit Tigers brought him back for another season after he did a fine (if unspectacular) job for them as a reserve in 2019, but he only appeared in three games for the Tigers before they cut him loose and he landed with the New York Yankees.

Primarily a shortstop throughout his career, Mercer does have 286⅔ innings logged at second base as well. He made one start at first base and another at third base last year, but he has little experience at those positions and doesn’t really have the bat to hold down either. Still, the Nats could test his positional versatility by giving him time at multiple infield positions in spring training. After all, if he can’t play around the diamond, he has no real path onto the roster.

Mercer will be able to opt out of his contract if the Nats don’t promote him to the major league team. If he is selected, he’ll make a baseline $1 million plus up to $400,000 in incentives. Expect him to get a serious look this spring, but if he doesn’t show much or the Nats are wowed by another candidate for the last bench spot, the Nats haven’t committed much and can allow him to look for an opportunity elsewhere.

#28 — Jeremy Jeffress

Jeremy Jeffress

2020 stats (majors): 22 G, 23⅓ IP, 8/10 SV, 1.54 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 0.94 WHIP, 1.42 K/BB
2019 stats (majors): 48 G, 52 IP, 1/4 SV, 5.02 ERA, 3.96 FIP, 1.37 WHIP, 2.71 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No

The Nats sign a local guy late, adding him to their spring training roster days into camp. Jeffress is from Virginia; he was a 16th overall pick of the Milwaukee Brewers out of Halifax County High School, all the way back in 2006.

A reliever throughout his career who was, not so long ago, considered one of baseball’s preeminent closers, Jeffress over the last few years has been kind of a mixed bag, albeit with more good than bad. Jeffress was exceptional in 2018, netting 15 saves while putting up a microscopic 1.29 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He hasn’t been quite as dominant since then, laboring through a lousy 2019 and somehow defying gravity through the shortened 2020 season.

On the face of it, it is tough to grok why Jeffress was available on a minors deal. Maybe he gave the Nats a hometown discount, but it is puzzling for the market of a veteran closer coming off a 1.54 ERA campaign to be cold enough to get that low in the first place. But peering under the hood, one does see some causes for worry. While Jeffress would have had the best ERA of anyone in the Nats’ bullpen, his FIP was actually slightly worse than it was in 2019. His walk rate ticked up. His strikeout rate ticked down. Jeffress had a lot of success because so many of the balls put in play against him were gobbled up by the Chicago Cubs defense. Opponents had an absurdly poor .161 batting average on balls in play, more than paying him back for when he was victimized by bad luck in 2019 to the tune of a .327 BABIP.

Off the field, Jeffress comes with some red flags. He was arrested for a domestic incident in 2012, although Jeffress maintains he did not lay hands on his girlfriend and no charges were brought in the matter. He has admitted to drug problems as a minor leaguer, well over a decade ago now, as he was suspended twice for marijuana use. Under MLB’s drug use rules, if he tests positive again, he will receive a lifetime suspension. Somehow, MLB did not find Jeffress ran afoul of this in 2016, when he was arrested for drunken driving while with the Texas Rangers.

Despite his past issues, Jeffress comes with a positive clubhouse reputation. Notably, the team that drafted him, the Brewers, re-acquired him not once but twice later in his major league career. And whatever one can say about his character, it is difficult not to see Jeffress as perhaps the likeliest non-roster player in camp this year to come north with the Nats. He has the credentials and there is the fit. Assuming Jeffress stays on the straight and narrow, the big question will be whether Jeffress can survive some BABIP regression, bring his walks back under control, and prove that his positive results in 2020 were no “dead cat bounce.”

#30 — Paolo Espino

Paolo Espino

2020 stats (majors): 2 G (1 GS), 6 IP, 0/0 SV, 4.50 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 1.67 WHIP, 3.50 K/BB
2019 stats (minors): 19 G (17 GS), 96⅔ IP, 5.59 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 4.08 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No

One of the nicer stories of an all-around depressing 2020 for the Washington Nationals was the return of Paolo Espino.

Espino, a onetime Nats farmhand who left the organization, made his major league debut in 2017, and then got stuck back in the minor league grind, returned to the Nats on a minor league deal for 2019 and 2020. Espino was called up at the tail end of the 2020 season for a spot start, then he pitched the final innings of the season in relief. The Nats won both games in which he appeared.

Now 34, the 5-foot-10 Espino has never had standout stuff, and he’s never been a top prospect. Although he’s from Panama, he was draft-eligible in 2010, when he was the Cleveland Indians’ tenth-round selection. He’s bounced around since then without sustained success at the major league level and solid but unremarkable stats over parts of ten seasons at Triple-A.

Released after the 2020 season, Espino re-signed with the Nats on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. He’ll provide some innings in Grapefruit League action and could be a good sounding board for younger pitchers, especially given as he is bilingual. A good performance could give Espino an opportunity elsewhere, maybe overseas. While it’s possible he could be considered for the last bullpen spot, he doesn’t really have the kind of arsenal that plays up in relief, and he seems unlikely to force his way into the picture.

If Espino remains with the Nats, expect him to slide into the rotation at Triple-A Rochester. He could potentially be called up again for a spot start, although the Nats probably wouldn’t plug him into the major league rotation long-term.

#32 — Aaron Barrett

Aaron Barrett

2020 stats (majors): 2 G (0 GS), 1⅔ IP, 10.80 ERA, 7.39 FIP, 2.40 WHIP, 0.50 K/BB
2019 stats (majors): 3 G (0 GS), 2⅓ IP, 15.43 ERA, 13.07 FIP, 3.86 WHIP, 0.25 K/BB
2019 stats (minors): 50 G (0 GS), 52⅓ IP, 2.75 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 3.88 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Look who’s back, back again. Barrett requires little introduction for any longtime Nats fan. After a sterling rookie season in 2014, Barrett struggled a bit in 2015 before blowing out his elbow late in the season. His journey back became the stuff of legend as he rehabbed from that injury, then another, and then another. After pitching very well for Double-A Harrisburg, he earned a cup of coffee in 2019. His first appearance went pretty well; the second and third, not so much.

Barrett only appeared in two games in 2020, which didn’t go very well, either, and ended with him suffering yet another injury. The Nats purged him from the roster after the season, but apparently he was healthy enough to sign another minors deal with the organization this winter.

At his best, in 2014 and 2015, Barrett featured a mid-90s fastball that played up with some late life and a vicious slider. While he’s showed flashes of that plus slider in his career revival, he’s struggled to establish it, with a fastball that’s down into the 88-90 mph range and below-average command. He turned 33 in January.

Let’s be honest, here: Barrett has an absolutely amazing story, just about movie-worthy. Every baseball fan should admire his grit and drive. And just for him to have an opportunity this year after what he has been through is so impressive, a story he’ll never tire of telling. But in terms of his on-field ability, Barrett just does not appear to have what it takes to pitch in the major leagues anymore. He made it back, and he even cameoed in the 2020 season. But his elbow has more screws in it than a <finish this joke> and he just doesn’t have the arm he used to, quite literally.

Expect Barrett to mostly get innings against scrub competition this spring. If he does show something, perhaps a fastball that can tickle 92 mph, the Nats could try him out against some more quality hitters and see how it goes. But if he’s shoving 80-something and struggling to find the strikezone again, well…it’s been a really, really good story. And he should feel no shame at all. He has already done an incredible thing.

#34 — Jon Lester

Jon Lester

2020 stats (majors): 12 G (12 GS), 61 IP, 5.16 ERA, 5.14 FIP, 1.33 WHIP, 2.47 K/BB
2019 stats (majors): 31 G (31 GS), 171⅔ IP, 4.46 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 1.50 WHIP, 3.17 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? N/A

Well, it was about time the Nats assigned a player #34 again, three years on from former star Bryce Harper’s high-profile defection to the Philadelphia Phillies. They got a longtime wearer of the number in Jon Lester, who might be as close to a true “household name” as there is among active pitchers. After all, the man has three World Series titles to his name and has suited up for some of the biggest-market, most marketable teams in baseball: the Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs and now the Washington Nationals. (Yeah, he also played half a season in Oakland along the way. Who remembers that?)

The Nats are getting a known quantity in Lester, who slides into the starting rotation behind the “Big Three” of Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin. Lester takes the ball every fifth day and can pitch deep into games. He’s one of the most durable pitchers in the sport, making at least 31 starts every season from 2008 to 2019 and starting the maximum 12 games in the shortened, 60-game 2020 season.

At 37 and entering his 16th year in the majors, Lester isn’t going to wow anyone with his premium stuff, but he should provide some length that the Nats were sorely lacking in 2020, when Corbin, Aníbal Sánchez, Erick Fedde, and especially Austin Voth too often got rocked and knocked out of the game in the early going, leaving the bullpen to put in a massive amount of work.

Coupled with Corbin, who heads into his third season with the Nats, Lester also gives the Nats two left-handers in their starting rotation for the first time since 2013, when Gio González and Ross Detwiler combined to start 45 games for Washington. That may seem like a trivial point, but it allows the Nats to mix things up so opponents won’t get into a groove facing three right-handed starters in a three-game series.

Look for Lester to slide into the leadership role vacated by Sánchez, beginning in spring training. He may be in the twilight of his career, but he doubtless has a lot of wisdom to offer the team’s younger pitchers. He’s earned his place as a fan favorite everywhere he has pitched, and while there may not be fans at Nationals Park this year, or at least not until later in the season, he can still endear himself to Nats fans by showing his quality as a leader and mentor for pitchers like Voth, Joe Ross, and Tim Cate.

#39 — Jefry Rodriguez

Jefry Rodriguez

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (majors): 10 G (8 GS), 46⅔ IP, 0/0 SV, 4.63 ERA, 4.54 FIP, 1.48 WHIP, 1.57 K/BB
2019 stats (minors): 8 G (4 GS), 26⅓ IP, 3.76 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1.67 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No

What to make of Jefry Rodriguez? The Nats have never been quite sure.

Rodriguez returns to the fold two years after the Nats traded him to Cleveland as part of a package to acquire Yan Gomes, who has since become Washington’s primary catcher. Rodriguez debuted with the Nats in 2018, making eight starts and six relief appearances, but posted a 5.71 ERA and some concerning peripherals, including 37 walks to 39 strikeouts in just 52 innings of work.

In 2019, Rodriguez improved his control somewhat. But for a young pitcher with a live arm, Rodriguez just doesn’t miss many bats, and without putaway stuff, he gets into trouble. After he took five losses while earning just one win with Cleveland, he was left at the alternate training site all season in 2020 and then cut loose this winter.

Rodriguez has a little bit of a checkered past, although as with Steven Fuentes, it’s unclear how relevant it is now. He was in the midst of a standout 2017 season at High-A Potomac when he was slapped with a suspension for clomiphene, a performance-enhancing drug that increases testosterone production. While he’s had success in the minor leagues since serving that suspension, at age 27, he has yet to establish himself as a major league-caliber pitcher. He’ll get another chance, though, with the organization that originally signed him out of the Dominican Republic.

Rodriguez is unlikely to be a serious candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation, but he has an outside shot at making the major league bullpen, particularly if long-relief frontrunner Austin Voth’s 2020 struggles carry over into spring training. Rodriguez will presumably report to Triple-A Rochester and could be stretched out as a starter as the minor league season gets underway, positioning him for a possible call-up if the need arises. However, he’s out of minor league options, which could incline the Nats toward either a veteran who would be likelier to clear waivers or a prospect who can be moved back and forth between the majors and the farm.

#40 — Rogelio Armenteros

Rogelio Armenteros

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (majors): 5 G (2 GS), 18 IP, 1/1 SV, 4.00 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 1.22 WHIP, 3.60 K/BB
2019 stats (minors): 19 G (18 GS), 84⅓ IP, 4.80 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 2.74 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Few Nats fans paid much attention, but Armenteros was picked up off waivers a few weeks after the World Series, giving the team yet another fifth starter candidate. Armenteros isn’t much of a proven quantity, and since he has a minor league option, it’s likely he will start the year at Triple-A Rochester.

Armenteros played in Cuba as a teenager before defecting to the United States. He was signed by the Houston Astros, with whom he made his major league debut in 2019. That was a decent year for Armenteros; his stats at Triple-A Round Rock weren’t anything special, but the Pacific Coast League is very hard on pitchers, especially that year with a livelier baseball. He acquitted himself well in his first four games with the Astros, but he got walloped in his fifth appearance, a start in which he gave up five earned runs in four innings, and that was his last trip to the major leagues, as Houston kept him at its alternate training site all season long in 2020.

The Nats might believe they have a potential long-term piece in Armenteros, who turns 27 a few days before the All-Star Break and isn’t even arbitration-eligible until after next season at the soonest. Alternatively, they might just be taking a flier on a swingman they can stash in the minors and trim from the roster without much regret if they need a spot. We’ve gotten Zoom calls and extended media interviews with the Nats’ big-name acquisitions this offseason, but whoever was in charge of hyping up Armenteros must have been asleep at the switch. We have no idea what the Nats expect from Armenteros or what his goals for the season are beyond, presumably, not getting waived again.

We should get a sense this spring of whether Armenteros is a piece of the puzzle for 2021 or just roster filler. At best, he could give Joe Ross a serious run for his money to break camp as the fifth starter. More likely, he’ll pitch a few innings, maybe get a show-me start or two in preseason action, and then get sent over to minor league camp a week or two before the team heads north.

All of that being said, even if Armenteros starts the year in upstate New York as expected, don’t be surprised if we see him if and when the Nats need a spot starter or two. He should be in competition with the likes of Erick Fedde and perhaps Steven Fuentes in that capacity, but as the Nats take care not to rush the development of top prospects Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli, Armenteros could be among the names they call when they need innings from someone who has been here before — and doesn’t require them to start anyone’s service clock or throw a pitcher who is not prepared into the deep end.

#43 — Javy Guerra

Javy Guerra

2020 stats (majors): 14 G (0 GS), 15⅔ IP, 0/0 SV, 4.02 ERA, 4.53 FIP, 1.66 WHIP, 1.86 K/BB
2019 stats (majors): 51 G (0 GS), 67⅔ IP, 2/2 SV, 4.66 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 1.24 WHIP, 3.35 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No

For the second straight year, Guerra returns as a non-roster invitee. Originally acquired by the Nats in a May 2019 waiver claim from the Toronto Blue Jays, Guerra clung to a bullpen spot for the rest of that season despite an unattractive 4.86 ERA with Washington, mostly because he could come into any situation, throw strikes, and provide the team with needed length. He made the team out of summer camp in July 2020 but was injured in his 14th appearance, spending the rest of the season on the shelf.

It’s hard to figure out Guerra’s place now. Known for pumping strikes, Guerra struggled with his command in 2020, perhaps suffering from limited ramp-up time. That led to more traffic on the basepaths, although it didn’t hurt his ERA as much as one might have expected.

Perhaps surprisingly, Guerra is now one of the elder statesmen in camp; he turned 35 a few days after the 2020 World Series. He’ll be another familiar face and a good veteran presence in camp, even if he doesn’t make the team. If he’s cut, he’ll likely have the right to opt out, since he’s a major league veteran with a recent track record, but he could instead fill a role in the bullpen at Triple-A Rochester.

Watch Guerra’s usage in preseason games. If the Nats have him coming in to mop up in the eighth or ninth inning, pitching mostly against A-ballers and lesser lights, that will be telling as to his place in the organization. On the other hand, if he’s used earlier in games and/or he’s asked to pitch multiple innings at a time, that could suggest the Nats are seriously evaluating him for a long relief role in the major league bullpen.

Also worth watching: Guerra’s command. Davey Martinez repeatedly talked up Guerra’s ability to throw strikes during the 2019 season, even when his performance wasn’t very good. If he can throw strikes consistently, he may have a place on the team. If he’s walking four batters per nine innings, as he did in 2020, the Nats will likely move on to the next roster candidate.

#45 — Yasel Antuna

Yasel Antuna

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 3 G, 8 PA, .167 AVG, .375 OBP, .167 SLG, 0 HR, 0/0 SB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? Yes
Primary position: SS
Secondary positions: 2B, 3B

The Nats are very excited about Yasel Antuna, and they’re not the only ones. Antuna drew rave reviews in instructional league play and was much-discussed during his time at Fredericksburg as part of Washington’s 2020 player pool.

What’s all the fuss about? Antuna hasn’t played close to a full season since he appeared in 87 games in 2018, when he batted a lowly .220/.293/.331 and committed 29 fielding errors. He tore his elbow ligament, required Tommy John surgery, and only appeared in three games in 2019 before being shut down again. He has never played above Low-A and hasn’t shown well at the plate since his first professional season in 2017, as a 17-year-old in the Gulf Coast League.

Antuna is healthy now, though. And he’s still young, having turned 21 just this offseason. And he’s a switch-hitter whom evaluators say has power from both sides of the plate and an advanced batting approach. And he has appeared at every infield position except first base, albeit with mixed results in the low minors.

It’s fair to say Antuna has something to prove. Injuries and the pandemic have severely limited his game experience, which typically hampers player development. But the Nats like Antuna enough and think he’s close enough to contributing that they gave him a 40-man roster spot, highly unusual for a prospect who hasn’t even established himself as a solid contributor at Low-A yet. It will be intriguing to see how he matches up against higher-level pitching in spring training.

There’s no room at the inn for Antuna on the 26-man roster, and he doesn’t have the resume to be seriously considered for a roster spot even if there were. The question is what level Antuna will start at in 2021. High-A Wilmington would seem the likeliest place, but it would be a striking show of confidence in the young man from the Dominican Republic if the Nats advance him all the way to Double-A Harrisburg, throwing him into the deep end in the high minors. If he’s as good as the 2020 reports say, he just might be able to handle it.

#47 — T.J. McFarland

T.J. McFarland

2020 stats (majors): 23 G (0 GS), 20⅔ IP, 0/0 SV, 4.35 ERA, 6.34 FIP, 1.50 WHIP, 1.80 K/BB
2019 stats (majors): 51 G (0 GS), 56 IP, 0/0 SV, 4.82 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 1.63 WHIP, 1.75 K/BB
2019 stats (minors): 3 G (0 GS), 4 IP, 4.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.00 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No

Snapped up late on a minor league contract this offseason (and given Howie Kendrick’s number), McFarland is a lefty option for the Nats to consider in a relief role this spring, albeit far from the only one in camp.

The 31-year-old McFarland, who has divided time in a major league career stretching back to 2013 between the Baltimore Orioles, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Oakland Athletics in 2020, has generally been a competent major league pitcher. He owns a career 4.08 ERA, which is about the spitting image of “decent but not spectacular.” He’s fairly tough on lefties, who own a career .260/.679 slash against him, but righties knock him around for a .314/.829 career line against. He did have a rather good 2018 season with Arizona, posting a 2.00 ERA (3.63 FIP) over 72 innings.

In terms of his peripherals, McFarland is underwhelming. His FIP suggests he was the beneficiary of quite a bit of luck last year. And he has never struck out many batters, with a 5.4 K/9 in his career that’s buoyed by a relatively strong rookie season in 2013. [Ed.: Stephen G. “Ghost” Mears points out that much of the damage done versus McFarland in 2020 came in low-leverage situations, in which opposing batters slashed a mind-numbing .422/1.302 against him over 50 plate appearances. He did have seven holds in seven opportunities, so he came through in those moments. His career leverage splits are less dramatic.]

Expect McFarland to get some looks against left-handed opponents in spring training, although the three-batter minimum means he’ll likely have to face his share of righties, too. And for a pitcher like McFarland who is on the fringes of a major league bullpen anyway, the three-batter minimum is an unwelcome change to the rules that could put him out of a job in the bigs.

McFarland has the resume to be a credible candidate for the last spot in the Nats’ Opening Day bullpen, although he’ll have to “prove it” after two rather unimpressive seasons. If he doesn’t make the team out of spring training, he’ll likely be able to opt out of his contract, although if he doesn’t, he figures to be useful depth at Triple-A Rochester.

#49 — Sam Clay

Sam Clay

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 45 G (1 GS), 69⅓ IP, 10 SV, 3.25 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 2.57 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? Yes

The Nats struck gold with Kyle Finnegan in the 2019-20 offseason, giving him a major league contract after he exited the Oakland Athletics minor league system as a free agent. He not only made his major league debut with the Nats but became an important part of their bullpen, looking the part of a future setup man or even maybe someday a closer.

The Nats are hoping they have done the same with Clay, who never got his chance to debut with the Minnesota Twins, his original organization. When he became a minor league free agent last fall, the Nats snapped him up on a major league deal, although they will be able to stash him in the minors for at least three seasons if they desire.

Clay’s 2019 stats are actually a little bit deceiving. By far his worst outing of the season was his last one, an appearance in a meaningless September game in which he was socked for five runs over 1⅔ innings. Before that blowup, he had a svelte 2.66 ERA across Double-A and Triple-A levels and held opposing batters to a cool .255/.339/.303 slash line. He allowed no home runs all season, even in that ugly final outing. [Ed: stever20 notes that Clay’s Triple-A ERA in 2019 was 4.37, although it was 2.57 before that unfortunate last outing. He also notes that despite recording a decent 3.38 ERA on the month, Clay got hit pretty hard in August, with a .302/.397/.415 slash against.]

In a system laden with right-handed pitchers, Clay offers a different look from the left side. He commands a fastball up to 95 mph well, with his best pitch being a power slider. While he has had success in the minor leagues against batters from both sides of the plate — he actually recorded modest reverse platoon splits in 2019 — the Nats always like slider specialists to dominate same-handed batters, so look for him to get some action against left-handed hitters in preseason play.

The bullpen picture for 2021 is on the crowded side, with just one or two spots that look to be legitimately up for grabs. Clay is certainly a candidate to fill an open spot, but he could also start the season at Triple-A Rochester — a place, of course, with which he’s very familiar from his time in the Twins organization. Maybe he and once-and-current teammate Ryne Harper can show everyone all the best places to get food and buy groceries on a budget. Of course, it would be nice for them to have some of that major league money, too…

#52 — Brad Hand

Brad Hand

2020 stats (majors): 23 G (0 GS), 22 IP, 16/16 SV, 2.05 ERA, 1.37 FIP, 0.77 WHIP, 7.25 K/BB
2019 stats (majors): 60 G (0 GS), 57⅓ IP, 34/39 SV, 3.30 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 1.24 WHIP, 4.67 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? No

After years of criticism for waiting until the trade deadline to upgrade the bullpen, Mike Rizzo signed one of the top relievers on the market for 2021.

Although he was designated for assignment after the season in one of the most cynical cost-cutting moves by a penny-pinching team in recent MLB memory, Brad Hand was utterly untouchable in 2020. Yes, 22 innings isn’t a huge sample size, but the numbers do really speak for themselves. More impressive, Hand did this despite not ever really regaining the velocity on his fastball, which at its best can flash in the mid-90s. Even with a 90-91 mph heater, Hand devastated the competition. It was simply game over when the Cleveland Indians brought him into the ninth inning. He didn’t blow a save all season; he didn’t even give up a home run.

Is Hand, who turns 31 next month, really that good? Probably not. But he’s still really good. His 2019 statline isn’t quite as jaw-dropping, but he still earned a trip to the All-Star Game (his third) and whiffed better than 13 batters per nine innings while holding down the ninth. Even if Hand regresses somewhat, the Nats still added a heck of a weapon for the late innings.

Hand may well find himself handling closer duties, especially after Daniel Hudson’s horrific 2020 campaign and with Tanner Rainey returning from a scary arm injury. But if Davey Martinez chooses to mix and match, Hand could be the man jogging out from the bullpen to neutralize pesky rivals like Bryce Harper, Freddie Freeman, and Jeff McNeil with the game on the line. The Nats have a bit of a rough history with lefties; aside from Sean Doolittle, who worked as the closer for most of his three-and-a-half-year tenure in D.C. and had some bumps transitioning into a setup role after Hudson was acquired, they haven’t really had a fearsome matchup lefty since Matt Thornton all the way back in 2015.

One thing to watch with Hand in 2021 will be how his performance is affected by the defense behind him. The Nats do not project to be a very good defensive team, with subpar defensive infielders like Bell and Starlin Castro and below-average defenders in the corner outfield positions as well. Hand is a strikeout machine, but he also thrives on inducing weak contact. We all know how bloopers, seeing-eye grounders, and careless throwing errors can turn a breezy ninth inning into a nail-splintering nightmare. Hand will be counting on his fielders to help him mow through opposing lineups, because no matter how good you are, you can’t whiff ‘em all.

#57 — Blake Swihart

Blake Swihart

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (majors): 43 G, 99 PA, .163 AVG, .222 OBP, .304 SLG, 4 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (minors): 33 G, 143 PA, .192 AVG, .287 OBP, .384 SLG, 6 HR, 0/1 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: C
Secondary positions: 1B, LF, RF

Swihart was once one of the Boston Red Sox’s premiere prospects, a versatile catcher and outfielder they dreamed on. While Swihart isn’t yet 29, that feels like a long time ago now.

Beset by injuries, Swihart’s career just never really got going. He hit .274/.712 as one of Boston’s go-to catchers in his rookie season in 2015, with some issues defensively (including 16 passed balls), then struggled over the next two seasons with injuries and poor performance. In a rare public blowup between a player and team, Swihart requested a trade in May 2018 due to limited playing time, but the Red Sox kept him around most of the season as a utility player, with time spent catching and playing outfield and third base; he hit a miserable .229/.613 that season.

Swihart had one final run with the Red Sox in April 2019 before he finally got his wish and was shipped off to the Arizona Diamondbacks, for whom he turned in a horrendous .136/.458 slash line before landing on the injured list yet again in June. He hasn’t played in the majors since then.

Swihart’s place in camp isn’t really clear. He fits a mold of player that isn’t uncommon for Rizzo to acquire: a former top prospect who flamed out and will get another chance on a low-risk deal in Washington. He could contend for that last bench spot with his versatility, but to say he has a lot to prove at the plate is an understatement.

Swihart likely lacked the leverage to negotiate an opt-out clause into his minor league contract (although one can never be sure), so the Nats may plan on stashing him in the high minors and using him wherever they need him while waiting to see if he can finally put it together. The chances that will happen are low, but hey, never say never.

#58 — Steven Fuentes

Steven Fuentes

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 23 G (11 GS), 80⅔ IP, 1 SV, 2.23 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 4.05 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? Yes

One of the most enigmatic new faces in major league camp is Fuentes, a right-hander the Nationals signed out of Panama in 2013. Fuentes turned heads two years ago when, at 22, he not only jumped up from High-A Potomac to Double-A Harrisburg, but he went from being a reliever in Potomac to working primarily as a starter in Harrisburg. Fuentes pitched extremely well, with a miniscule 0.53 ERA over eight appearances at High-A before putting up a 2.69 ERA over fifteen games at Double-A.

Unfortunately, Fuentes’ season ended in such a way that his sparkling results were called into question. He tested positive for heptaminol, a blood pressure drug banned in competitive sports under anti-doping regulations, and was suspended for the balance of the season in August. Fuentes did not appear in a game in 2020, although he was part of the Nationals’ player pool when the season resumed; however, he is considered to have served his suspension and is eligible to play in 2021.

The Nats added Fuentes to the 40-man roster after the 2020 season to prevent him from becoming a minor league free agent. Reports on him were scarce in 2020, but minor league pitching coach Justin Lord praised his ability to induce double play balls when needed. That’s because Fuentes’ signature pitch is a heavy sinker that batters have a hard time squaring up. He gave up just one home run in the 2019 season and held batters to a .211/.280/.257 triple slash with runners on base.

Having been converted into a starting role, Fuentes seems likely to figure as minor league rotation depth, likely starting the year in either Double-A Harrisburg or Triple-A Rochester. But the Nats will get a good look at him this spring, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he makes a start or two as Washington tries to figure out what it has in Fuentes.

If Fuentes moves into a relief role, the possibilities are interesting. The Nats have historically liked to have at least one groundball specialist in their bullpen, and Fuentes would fit the bill. However, they would need to be confident enough in their starting depth to shift Fuentes back into the ‘pen. If he does get looks as a reliever, he’s an outside contender for a bullpen spot on the Opening Day roster, although the facts he has minor league options and lacks major league experience are likely to work against him. Still, the Nats have broken camp before with newbie relievers, and they did so as recently as 2020 with Kyle Finnegan, so it’s not altogether implausible.

#60 — Joan Adon

Joan Adon

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 22 G (21 GS), 105 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 2.05 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? Yes
Minor league options remaining? Yes

It was a bit of a head-scratcher when the Nats included Adon, 23 this August, in their player pool for the shortened 2020 season. Heads were scratched again when they opted to place him on the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft, ensuring he could not be pilfered by another team.

Adon hasn’t actually pitched above Low-A ball. He spent all of 2019 in the rotation for Hagerstown, with decent but unspectacular results. Nevertheless, the organization clearly thinks a lot of Adon, who has power stuff and could project in either a relief or a starting role.

Because of his extremely limited experience, don’t be surprised if we see Adon this spring and he looks overmatched by higher-level competition. While it’s atypical for the Nats to place a player who is so far from major league readiness on the 40-man roster, they seem content to play the long game with Adon, gambling that he will ultimately blossom into a major league player — and figuring that potential was worth using a roster spot on him this winter, lest another organization see the same thing and take him away.

Adon isn’t a realistic candidate to break camp with the Nats this spring. He’s likelier to find himself wearing a Fredericksburg Nationals uniform than a Washington Nationals uniform when the season gets underway, although he’ll probably start the year a level or two higher, at High-A Wilmington or Double-A Harrisburg.

One thing to watch will be Adon’s velocity. It was fairly variable in 2019, with some evaluators pegging it around 93-94 mph and others saying he was comfortable pumping 96-97 mph (it might just depend on which game they watched). That was his age-20 season, and it’s possible there is more left in the tank for him to increase his velocity, building separation between his primary pitch and his changeup, which he will need to continue starting at higher levels of competition. If Adon is threatening triple digits with his heater when we see him this spring, we’ll be wondering no more why the Nats feel strongly enough about him to give him a roster spot.

#62 — Tyler Eppler

Tyler Eppler

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (NPB): 41 G, 78⅓ IP, 4.83 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 3.65 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

One of the less-noticed members of the Nats’ 60-man player pool last year, Eppler is awaiting his role in the Washington organization.

The 28-year-old righty was a minor prospect with the Pittsburgh Pirates, drafted in the sixth round in 2014 out of Sam Houston State University. He didn’t break into the majors with Pittsburgh before decamping to Japan, where he pitched for the Orix Buffaloes in the 2019 season. Nippon Professional Baseball is notoriously hitter-friendly, and Eppler took his lumps, although he showed good control with a 2 BB/9 during the season.

Eppler signed with the Nats on a minor league deal for the 2020 season. Of course, there was no minor league season in 2020. Instead, Eppler spent the season at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg, where he presumably served as emergency starter depth but was never called upon during the season.

The Nats have brought back nearly everyone from the 2020 player pool who is still in the organization for major league spring training, and that includes Eppler. While his career 3.82 ERA in the minor leagues and his 4.83 ERA from Japan won’t stand out, Eppler himself will, at 6-foot-5 with a classic pitcher’s frame. He isn’t a super-hard thrower, working in the low 90s, but he does have a four-pitch mix that should cement him in a starting role. He seems quite unlikely to compete for the last spot in the rotation, but he’ll be in the mix.

Assuming Eppler doesn’t shock us again by cracking the Opening Day roster, expect to see him report to Triple-A Rochester and grab a spot as a starting pitcher for the Nats’ top farm team this season. He should slot in alongside the likes of Paolo Espino, Erick Fedde, and probably two of Rogelio Armenteros, Steven Fuentes, and Sterling Sharp to round out that five-man unit.

#64 — Matt Cronin

Matt Cronin

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 17 G (0 GS), 22 IP, 1 SV, 0.82 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 3.73 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

It was a little perplexing at the end of the 2020 season when, with mounting injuries to the pitching staff and a black hole at the bottom of the bullpen, the Nats chose not to start the clock of their top relief prospect. Instead, they sent him to the instructional league to finish off a season spent at the alternate training site, where he punctuated his 2020 with an immaculate inning to close out a showcase game. And now here Matt Cronin is in camp, with serious lefty firepower and a puncher’s chance to crack the Opening Day roster.

Some would say there’s a Cronin-shaped hole in the bullpen, which lacks a power lefty and doesn’t have any portsiders at all besides presumptive closer Brad Hand. Of course, it’s possible to envision other uses for that bullpen spot, and some of the candidates in the mix already have 40-man roster spots, which Cronin does not because the Nats decided against promoting him last year. But if Cronin pitches well, the Nats have shown they are willing to reward standout spring performances with major league opportunities, and with Cronin’s profile, he sure looks like a player the Nats could use.

A pure reliever at the University of Arkansas, Cronin slipped to the fourth round in the 2019 draft, where the Nats were glad to nab him. He rewarded them with a dazzling debut season, starting and finishing the year at Low-A Hagerstown, where he put on a clinic and did nothing but dominate. The only black mark on Cronin’s minor league record so far is a 4.5 BB/9, although that is offset by a remarkable 16.8 K/9. The respective numbers call to mind another left-handed relief candidate in camp this year, Seth Romero, who made his major league debut in 2020.

Unlike Romero and Hand, Cronin can gas his fastball up above 95 mph, and evaluators say it plays faster than that, appearing to rise in the batter’s eye as it approaches the plate due to its high spin rate. Cronin has also devastated lower-level batters with his hammer curveball, although he spoke with TalkNats earlier this month about how he’s made adjustments to that pitch in collaboration with the Nats’ coaching and player development staff. He’s also added a splitter, a relatively rare pitch these days known for inducing lots of worm-burners.

It’s difficult to project where Cronin starts his 2021 campaign. If he doesn’t make the team out of spring training, he could conceivably go straight to Double-A Harrisburg, skipping over High-A Wilmington entirely. He’ll probably be blocked at Triple-A Rochester, at least initially, by a mix of older pitchers there.

#65 — Raudy Read

Raudy Read

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (majors): 6 G, 11 PA, .091 AVG, .091 OBP, .091 SLG, 0 HR, 0/0 SB
2019 stats (minors): 82 G, 328 PA, .275 AVG, .317 OBP, .546 SLG, 20 HR, 1/2 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: C
Secondary position: 1B

If it seems like Raudy Read has been around forever, it’s because he’s been in the organization since 2010. Briefly buzzed about as the Nationals’ possible “catcher of the future,” somewhere in between the Pedro Severino and Israel Pineda boomlets, Read has had brief cups of coffee in the major leagues but never really distinguished himself.

Power has always been Read’s calling card, while his plate discipline, game-calling, and defensive ability have been more in question. As recently as 2019, Read terrorized Triple-A pitching, although the hitter-friendly dynamics of the Pacific Coast League have to be considered in evaluating his performance.

Outrighted from the roster after the 2020 season, in which he did not crack the majors, the 27-year-old Read now appears to be more of an organizational player than a true prospect, although with the Nats’ thin farm system, some evaluators still rank him inside the team’s top 30. He’s still a spring training staple, since catchers are always in demand in spring training and he has a bit of major league experience, at least.

Maybe Read could have been more, but most of his 2018 season was wiped out by a steroid suspension. As fate would have it, starting catcher Matt Wieters was injured and backups Miguel Montero and Pedro Severino were ineffectual that year, opening the door for lesser-known prospect Spencer Kieboom to become an unlikely roster staple in his one and only season in the big leagues (not counting a pinch-hit walk at the end of 2016, his only previous major league action). The Nats didn’t even bring Read up after rosters expanded and he’d served his suspension, sending a signal that his star had fallen within the organization.

Read spent all of 2020 at the alternate training site, catching sides and soaking up innings. Expect to see him in the same capacity in West Palm Beach. Even multiple injuries to the Nats’ catching corps seem unlikely to put Read in the conversation for an Opening Day roster spot, with fellow non-roster invitee Welington Castillo, 40-man roster member Tres Barrera, and possibly younger prospect Jakson Reetz ahead of Read on the depth chart. He should be back in Triple-A when the season begins, although he could find himself playing second string behind Barrera in Rochester.

#68 — Bryan Bonnell

Bryan Bonnell

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 42 G (1 GS), 69⅔ IP, 2 SV, 3.49 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 3.88 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Big Bryan Bonnell (seriously, he’s listed at 6-foot-5, 240 lbs) isn’t one of the names most often discussed in the Nats’ farm system. And yet, this will be his second major league spring training appearance since the Nats scooped him up as a minor league free agent midway through the 2019 season.

You know the Nats love their Las Vegas guys, and Bonnell is a Vegas native drafted out of UNLV in the 36th round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015. He was flipped to the Seattle Mariners for cash in 2017 and then ended up with the Nats in 2019 after the Mariners released him.

While Bonnell has never been a high-end prospect, it’s a little bit of a mystery why his first two organizations moved on from him so quickly. With Double-A Arkansas in 2019, he pitched well enough, with a 4.26 ERA in the hitter-friendly Texas League and strong peripherals, including a 1.9 BB/9 and a 9.0 K/9. With the Nats, he seems to have found an organization that values him, and so here he is back at West Palm Beach for the second straight year.

Locating mid-90s heat effectively, Bonnell seemed to impress the coaches in limited action before spring training was shut down early in March 2020, but he wasn’t among the players selected to the Nats’ 60-man player pool based in Fredericksburg for the shortened season. He’ll get another bite at the apple at age 27.

Bonnell is a dark horse candidate at best for a bullpen spot. His limited experience above Double-A (one long relief stint for Triple-A Fresno in 2019) weighs against him relative to other, more experienced journeymen and hotter prospects in camp. But he could be serviceable bullpen depth, perhaps starting the season at Triple-A Rochester in April. Relievers tend to have a short shelf life relative to starting pitchers and position players, so if Bonnell is a late bloomer, that’s still a great outcome — especially for a player who was drafted in the 36th round.

#70 — Luis Avilán

Luis Avilán

2020 stats (majors): 10 G (0 GS), 8⅓ IP, 0/0 SV, 4.32 ERA, 5.95 FIP, 1.68 WHIP, 1.80 K/BB
2019 stats (majors): 45 G (0 GS), 32 IP, 0/0 SV, 5.06 ERA, 4.96 FIP, 1.47 WHIP, 2.14 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No

The Nats are familiar with Avilán from his time in the NL East. He debuted with the Atlanta Braves all the way back in 2012 and proceeded to show his stuff as one of the best relievers in the National League in 2012 and 2013.

Since then, Avilán’s star has faded. After a rocky 2014 season, he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015 and rebounded with two strong seasons in Dodger blue in 2016 and 2017. He’s been more serviceable than good, averaging a 4.31 ERA, from 2018 through 2020 while seeing time with four different organizations, including the New York Yankees in 2020 and the New York Mets in 2019.

What really holds Avilán back in today’s game is, well, today’s game. In 18 of his 45 appearances for the Mets in 2019, he faced fewer than three batters. Throughout his career, he has been much tougher on left-handed hitters, holding them to a .203/.559 slash line against, while righties have hit a not-great-but-not-terrible .261/.727 against him. The rules changed after that 2019 season, though, requiring relievers to either pitch to at least three batters or close out the inning before they can be taken out of the game. And in 2020 with the Yankees, the 21 right-handed hitters Avilán faced crushed him for a collective .353/1.241 slash against, while he handled the 18 left-handed hitters he faced to the tune of a .176/.399 slash against.

The three-batter minimum renders lefty specialists like Avilán all but obsolete. There may still be opportunities for him to get some usage against the tough left-handed sluggers of the NL East, including Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper, New York’s Jeff McNeil, and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman…if they are due up with two outs. Common practice these days is to “protect” left-handed power hitters with a right-handed power hitter behind them, discouraging teams from bringing in a specialist to neutralize them, because that specialist would then have to face the likes of J.T. Realmuto, Pete Alonso, or Marcell Ozuna. No one really wants to do that!

While the game does seem to have passed Avilán by, he’s still an obvious candidate to make the team in spite of that. The Nats will still get a look at him in camp to see how he performs in game situations. The flip side of the new rule is that lefty specialists know they have to adapt or else, so it’s possible Avilán, 31, has developed some new tricks to be more effective against righties. A strong spring showing could put Avilán into the Nats’ bullpen, since the team is short on left-handed relievers and could use a weapon against Harper, McNeil, Freeman, etc. But if the Nats aren’t confident Avilán will contribute, they may choose not to use up a roster spot on him. In that case, Avilán will likely exercise the right to opt out and seek another opportunity.

#71 — Cole Henry

Cole Henry

2020 stats (college): 4 G (4 GS), 19 IP, 1.89 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3.83 K/BB
2019 stats (college): 14 G (11 GS), 58⅓ IP, 3.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 4.00 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Mike Rizzo got two first-round talents who project at the front of a major league rotation someday in the 2020 draft. Henry was the Nats’ second pick, out of Louisiana State University, after Rizzo used his first-round draft selection to take Cade Cavalli.

Henry isn’t considered to have quite as high a ceiling as Cavalli, or 2019 first-rounder Jackson Rutledge, or international amateur signing Andry Lara. But Henry is arguably the most polished of the four, demonstrating good feel to command his three-pitch arsenal in college with a 2.8 BB/9 and a strong 11.1 K/9. He didn’t suffer from the consistency issues that plagued Cavalli at the University of Oklahoma, and he’s mechanically less complicated than Rutledge. Obviously, as a college product, he’s considerably more advanced than Lara, who just turned 18 and isn’t part of major league camp this spring.

Despite that, though, Henry wasn’t chosen to join the Nats’ 60-man player pool in Fredericksburg last season, whereas Rutledge was a charter member and Cavalli was added quickly after he officially signed with Washington. He was called down to West Palm Beach, a day’s drive from his Alabama hometown, to participate in instructional league at the end of the season, where he was impressive.

Henry will get a more extended opportunity this spring to work with coaches in West Palm Beach and sit at the knee of some of the greatest pitchers of their generation, including Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. He isn’t here to compete for a roster spot and may find his playing time to be limited, but hopefully, we will get to see him in a game or two before he’s relegated to the backfields.

Expect Henry to break into professional ball at Low-A Fredericksburg this season. While it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if the Nats placed him at High-A Wilmington, the fact that he wasn’t at the alternate training site in 2020 and will almost certainly continue to work as a starter, whose development the Nats generally don’t like to rush, points more toward him debuting at the lower level.

#72 — Jackson Cluff

Jackson Cluff

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 62 G, 280 PA, .229 AVG, .320 OBP, .367 SLG, 5 HR, 11/16 SB
2019 stats (college): 53 G, 252 PA, .325 AVG, .458 OBP, .515 SLG, 4 HR, 12/12 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes
Primary position: SS
Secondary position: N/A

On their face, Cluff’s stats aren’t much reason to get excited. Old when he was drafted out of Brigham Young University (he took time away from his college career for a mission) and now age 24, Cluff doesn’t have a ton of power, and his bat-to-ball skills at Low-A Hagerstown in 2019 left something to be desired. He hasn’t played above Low-A, although he was a late addition to the 60-man player pool at Fredericksburg in 2020.

But there are some intriguing qualities to Cluff’s game. For one, he bats left-handed, a coveted status for a middle infielder. He had as many triples as home runs (five apiece) in 2019. He took his walks for a respectable on-base percentage of .320, despite having a poor batting average. And while he was caught stealing too many times, he ripped eleven bags in his first professional season, perhaps suggesting a skillset that stands to be refined further.

The downsides are fairly obvious. Cluff struck out too much, at a rate of nearly one in four plate appearances ending in a K. He didn’t get enough hits. And he almost exclusively played shortstop at a level where the Nats often like to start giving players reps at second and third base, although that doesn’t necessarily preclude him moving to a different position of need or developing into a utility player later in his career.

Inviting Cluff to major league spring training now speaks well of him as a player the Nats think has a major league future. On their face, Cluff’s stats say he isn’t the type of player who gets invited to major league camp; maybe he gets called over once or twice as one of those guys with a number in the 90s and no name on the back of his jersey, soaking up a couple of innings and maybe getting a plate appearance in the ninth against some anonymous A-ball pitcher. But Cluff has earned rave reviews for his makeup, and player development officials sung his praises after his time at the alternate training site in 2020. For most other players with his pedigree and credentials, getting a non-roster invitation this year would be a surprise. For Cluff, it really isn’t. So we’ll see how it goes and if he justifies the hype around him, because hype there is.

Expect Cluff to start the year at High-A Wilmington or Double-A Harrisburg. He’s not really in contention for a spot on the Opening Day roster, given his limited experience and no shortage of veteran competition. The Nats can be aggressive in promoting older prospects they think have some potential, so he could move up quickly into the high minors and potentially even figure for a call-up as soon as midseason if the Nats have some injuries and need a versatile middle infielder to take some at-bats.

#73 — Drew Mendoza

Drew Mendoza

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 55 G, 239 PA, .264 AVG, .377 OBP, .383 SLG, 4 HR, 3/3 SB
2019 stats (college): 65 G, 297 PA, .308 AVG, .471 OBP, .594 SLG, 16 HR, 2/4 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes
Primary position: 1B
Secondary position: 3B

The Nats’ third-round draft pick out of Florida State University, Mendoza is the rare first baseman who bats left-handed but throws right-handed.

Mendoza has kind of an odd profile in general. A third baseman for most of his playing career in college, Mendoza moved over to first base immediately in professional ball, where his 6-foot-5 frame is an asset rather than a liability. A fearsome slugger in college, swatting 16 home runs in 65 games in the 2019 collegiate season, Mendoza’s calling card upon moving over to professional ball was his discipline against Low-A pitching, with power decidedly taking a back seat.

The Nats added Mendoza to the 60-man player pool midway through the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season. He’s back with many of his Fredericksburg compatriots now in West Palm Beach, and he’ll likely start the season at either High-A Wilmington or Double-A Harrisburg.

In the long run, the Nats would like Mendoza to be their first baseman of the future, taking over from Josh Bell perhaps as soon as 2022, when the designated hitter rule is expected to come to the National League. For now, the 23-year-old is a relatively junior camp participant, with no plausible pathway onto the Opening Day roster, but with a chance to turn some heads and turn up his thus-far-muted prospect buzz in his first taste of the Grapefruit League.

Of note, Mendoza is really the only significant Nats first base prospect. First base is a premium offensive position, and a starting first baseman is expected to hit for both average and (especially) power. So in his age-23 season, the pressure will be on for Mendoza to put on a light show and stake his claim to the job.

#75 — Israel Pineda

Israel Pineda

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 101 G, 411 PA, .217 AVG, .278 OBP, .305 SLG, 7 HR, 1/3 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes
Primary position: C
Secondary position: N/A

Pineda was one of a few prospects who looked to be under consideration for a 40-man roster spot in November, which would have protected him from being taken in the Rule 5 draft. The Nats opted not to add him, and no team selected Pineda, so here he is, still in the Washington organization and now with an invitation to major league spring training.

While he was tabbed as a hot catching prospect after hitting .273 at Short Season-A Auburn as an 18-year-old in 2018, Pineda endured a frustrating season at Low-A Hagerstown in 2019, with his batting average deflating to a lowly .217 and his OPS barely registering at a meager .583. Defensively, Pineda was a mixed bag, allowing 26 passed balls in 84 starts but also throwing out 44% of attempted base-stealers.

Reports from Nats team officials on Pineda’s progress after he was added to the 60-man player pool at Fredericksburg in 2020 were complimentary (as you would expect) but not altogether glowing. “He’s not a finished product yet, but certainly it’s in there,” assistant general manager Mark Scialabba told beat reporter Byron Kerr, formerly of MASN.

Important to note here is Pineda won’t be old enough to buy a drink in the United States until early April, so for him to be far enough along as a catcher right now for him to be at the alternate training site in 2020 and major league spring training in 2021 is impressive, no matter how you slice it. While he’s probably in camp mostly to catch some side sessions and soak in the experience, he could get some opportunities to face down a major league pitcher here and there, which will be an interesting matchup to see.

Pineda is well down the depth chart below the likes of Raudy Read, Tres Barrera, and Jakson Reetz, but he should start the year at either Low-A Fredericksburg or High-A Wilmington, with a chance to progress this season. The Nats seem likely to keep him behind the plate, although his athleticism could also play in the outfield if his bat can keep up.

#76 — Jakson Reetz

Jakson Reetz

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 96 G, 387 PA, .253 AVG, .370 OBP, .441 SLG, 13 HR, 3/4 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes
Primary position: C
Secondary position: N/A

Back for his second consecutive major league spring training, Reetz enjoyed a breakout 2019 season in his third year at High-A Potomac, but he didn’t get much of an opportunity to build on it in 2020, as the minor league season was wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. He participated in spring training and then was named to the Nats’ 60-man player pool, spending the season at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg.

Reetz was drafted out of high school, the Nats’ third-round draft pick all the way back in 2014. The development curve is steeper for some players than others, and as a high school catcher, Reetz is in a particularly high-risk cohort. While he’s never hit for a high average, Reetz has consistently demonstrated good on-base skills. He put that together with a power surge in 2019 to earn a trip to the Arizona Fall League, where he slashed .333/.973 with a home run over eight games.

There isn’t a ton about Reetz’s game that stands out. He’s regarded as a fairly average defensive catcher, although he threw out a strong 41% of attempted base-stealers to turn some heads in 2019. He bats right-handed, limiting him as a potential platoon player. All of his minor league experience so far has come as a catcher. He turned 25 last month, so while he’s not altogether aged out of prospect status (especially considering the “lost year” that was 2020), he’s on his way there.

But Reetz doesn’t necessarily need to stand out. He just needs to be a solid, consistent performer who shows he can handle both catching and hitting against major league pitching. At this point in his career, he projects to being either an organizational player or a major league backup catcher, and with both of their catchers set to reach free agency after this season, the Nats would doubtless love to be able to promote from within. Reetz is one option, while Tres Barrera, who has a 40-man roster spot already, is another.

Expect to see Reetz used much as he was in spring training a year ago, handling a share of the load and perhaps getting a few starts to see how he matches up against higher-level pitchers. He’s not going to break camp with the team, but he should start the season in the high minors for the first time, whether at Double-A Harrisburg or even Triple-A Rochester, where the season is expected to begin a few weeks earlier.

#77 — Carlos Tocci

Carlos Tocci

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 89 G, 367 PA, .244 AVG, .313 OBP, .308 SLG, 4 HR, 4/10 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes
Primary position: CF
Secondary positions: LF, CF

There was a bit of confusion last spring when the Nats signed Tocci before spring training to a minor league deal, reportedly inviting him to major league camp, but then didn’t actually include him on their list of non-roster invitees in February 2020. Tocci did end up getting called over from the minor league side as a reserve, but he only appeared in one spring game.

Well, no confusion this time: Tocci is a non-roster invitee to spring training in 2021.

To be completely blunt, there’s not a clear outstanding reason why Tocci is here. He owns a catastrophic .235/.297/.298 career triple slash at Triple-A across parts of three seasons, most of his work coming in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He’s considered a good center fielder, but there’s no amount of defense that can justify playing a hitter with a sub-.600 OPS in a hyper-offensive environment. He has 135 plate appearances in the majors, all of them coming in 2018 when he was a backup outfielder for the Texas Rangers, and he hit .225/.271/.283 that year, so he wasn’t exactly one of those rare guys who struggles to get going at Triple-A but comes alive under the bright lights.

Tocci’s big asset here is his age. Although he’s been around for a while, he’s only 25, having made his professional debut as a 16-year-old in the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 2012 after signing out of Venezuela. He’ll be 26 in August. So the Nats may believe his best play is still ahead. If he plays outstanding center field defense and can’t hit at all, it’s tough to see a future for him in professional baseball, but if he plays outstanding center field defense and can at least hit a little bit, the Nats might have something — maybe an up-and-down fifth outfielder, at least.

Realistically, Tocci has a whole lot of evidence weighing against him being a player who can compete at this level, and he’ll need to show something more at Double-A Harrisburg or Triple-A Rochester when the season gets going before he could earn a serious look for a place on the roster. Hopefully, his time on the major league side of camp will give coaches an opportunity to work with him directly, and figure out how and if they can fix his approach at the plate, after he wasn’t one of the players at the 2020 alternate training site and didn’t get much time with the major leaguers in spring training last year.

#78 — Cade Cavalli

Cade Cavalli

2020 stats (college): 4 G (4 GS), 23⅔ IP, 4.18 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 7.40 K/BB
2019 stats (college): 12 G (12 GS), 60⅓ IP, 3.28 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 1.69 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Either the Nats’ best or their second-best prospect, depending on who you ask, Cavalli is a broad-shouldered righty who slings a triple-digit fastball with three secondary offerings. He’s one of three starting pitcher prospects in the organization tabbed with genuine ace potential, alongside Jackson Rutledge and the younger, less experienced Andry Lara.

Drafted in the first round out of the University of Oklahoma last year, Cavalli was the Nats’ dream draft pick who somehow managed to slide all the way to the 22nd overall selection. Some evaluators expressed concern that his big stuff plays down due to lack of deception, but that wasn’t an issue for him over four starts before the pandemic canceled the 2020 season. He struck out 37 batters across those four games, walking just five.

Concern wasn’t wholly unfounded. Cavalli got results in 2019 but walked a tightrope in game after game to do it, posting a concerning 5.2 BB/9 and a relatively pedestrian 8.8 K/9 in 12 starts for the Sooners. The 2020 season wasn’t really long enough to say with confidence whether Cavalli had put it all together. But the Nats gambled on Cavalli’s upside, and by all accounts, he was extremely impressive as a late addition at the alternate training site and then pitching in instructional league. More than one evaluator ranked Cavalli ahead of the similarly promising Rutledge after the season, and MLB.com names Cavalli as the 99th-best overall prospect as of preseason.

Cavalli getting an invitation to major league spring training less than a year after being drafted is aggressive. But given one first-rounder from the 2020 draft class (Chicago White Sox reliever and 11th overall pick Garrett Crochet, out of the University of Tennessee) has already made his major league debut, for the Nats and Cavalli, there is no time like the present.

While Cavalli has advanced stuff and a high ceiling, he’s not in camp to vie for a seat on the plane up to D.C. when spring training is over. He’ll get to face higher-level competition than he’s seen before and soak up some wisdom from the old hands on the Nats’ staff, and maybe we’ll see enough to decide for ourselves whether Cavalli or Rutledge is the true number-one prospect. Expect to see the 22-year-old making his professional debut for High-A Wilmington when the season gets underway.

#79 — Jackson Rutledge

Jackson Rutledge

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 10 G (10 GS), 37⅓ IP, 3.13 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 2.60 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Either the Nats’ best or their second-best prospect, depending on who you ask, Rutledge is a lanky 6-foot-8 righty who slings a triple-digit fastball with three secondary offerings. He’s one of three starting pitcher prospects in the organization tabbed with genuine ace potential, alongside Cade Cavalli and the younger, less experienced Andry Lara.

Rutledge was a first-round draft pick out of San Jacinto Community College in 2019, so he’s a little younger than the typical college draftee; he’ll turn 22 on Opening Day. He blew away the competition and finished out at Low-A Hagerstown in his first professional season before losing the competitive season in 2020 to the coronavirus.

While Cavalli was added a little later, Rutledge was an initial member of the Nats’ 60-man player pool last season, spending all season at the alternate training site in Fredericksburg. While Cavalli has overtaken Rutledge on some prospect rankings, evaluators seem to see both of them as close together and with rising stock. They’re both big, physically imposing pitchers with four-pitch arsenals headlined by a power fastball. TalkNats has compared Rutledge to former Nats ace Jordan Zimmermann, although Rutledge is taller and throws harder.

The piece of the puzzle the Nats need to snap into place with Rutledge is his command. Taller pitchers tend to struggle with putting their pitches precisely where they want them to go, the downside to having longer levers that allow them to put more power and downward action behind the ball. While Rutledge’s walk rate in 2019 wasn’t alarming, at 3.6 BB/9, it was a touch higher than the Nats would like it to be, especially given the competition at those low levels.

Club officials talked up Rutledge’s improved command and consistent delivery coming out of the alternate training site and instructional league. We’ll get to see whether that’s for real this spring, and we’ll get accustomed to the sight of Rutledge wearing a Nationals jersey, a sight we hope to see every fifth day for years to come. The future isn’t now just yet with Rutledge, who should get some opportunities but will likely start the year at High-A Wilmington or Double-A Harrisburg, but it is close enough that we can see it.

#80 — Tim Cate

Tim Cate

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 26 G (26 GS), 143⅔ IP, 3.07 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 4.34 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

The Nationals’ seventh-ranked prospect by Baseball America, Cate is one of the few left-handed starting pitcher prospects of note within the organization.

Drafted out of the University of Connecticut in the second round back in 2018, Cate struggled in his first professional season, but he righted the ship in 2019, cruising through Low-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac, where he made 13 starts apiece. He could have started the 2020 season at Double-A Harrisburg, but he instead spent the summer in Fredericksburg at the alternate training site, where he was part of the Nats’ player pool.

Cate has drawn some comparisons to onetime Nats ace Gio González. They’re both on the short side, standing 6 feet with cleats on, and employ a big breaking curveball from the left side to freeze batters. Cate’s curveball is considered one of the best in the Nats’ system, and at the time he was drafted, evaluators praised it as a major league-ready pitch. But his other offerings aren’t as far along. At his best, Gio González pumped 93-95 mph heat, while Cate struggles to maintain his velocity at 90 mph. His changeup is considered a third pitch, but team officials were reportedly pleased with its progress in camp last year.

This is a big year for Cate, who turns 24 at the end of September. At minimum, he needs to hit the ground running and build off his progress in A-ball and at the alternate training site, establishing himself at Double-A. At best, he could force the issue and make his major league debut, whether as a reliever or a spot starter. He has the advantage of being more advanced and having more experience than the Nats’ other top pitching prospects Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavalli, and Cole Henry, and while he can’t bring the heat like those other three can, there is a reason Rizzo mentions him in the same breath as those guys.

It’s pretty unlikely Cate breaks camp with the Nats. While his future could ultimately be in relief, the Nats probably won’t give up on him as a starter just because they have a bullpen spot open and could use another left-handed reliever right now. And there are more established candidates for the fifth rotation spot, although it wouldn’t be totally shocking to see Cate make a start or two this spring. This is a great opportunity for him to show he belongs in the conversation, though, and will give him yet more experience to build on as he heads into a pivotal season.

#81 — Cody Wilson

Cody Wilson

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 86 G, 389 PA, .222 AVG, .317 OBP, .330 SLG, 5 HR, 23/29 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes
Primary position: CF
Secondary positions: LF, RF

Like Carlos Tocci, Wilson is regarded as a premium defensive center fielder whose offensive skills are somewhat questionable.

Wilson was an all-around threat playing for Florida Atlantic University, bopping 14 home runs in just 63 games in 2018 before he was drafted in the 13th round by the Nationals. He’s showed flashes of power in his brief minor league career, although his standout trait as an offensive player is obviously his speed on the basepaths, as he stole 23 bags in 29 attempts in 2019, all but one of them for Low-A Hagerstown.

Baseball America counts Wilson as the best defensive outfielder in the system. Sure, it’s not a very deep system, but that’s still high praise considering Wilson was a later-round draftee out of a not-very-prestigious program who hasn’t played above Low-A ball.

That being said, Wilson isn’t all that young. He’ll be 25 in July, having been drafted a few weeks before his 22nd birthday. So he needs to move up while improving at the plate and holding serve in the field, right now, this year, if he’s going to maintain any real prospect buzz. Father Time is Public Enemy No. 1 for glove-first, up-the-middle players, and losing the 2020 season was a tough turn of events for an older draftee with a lot to prove like Wilson.

All of that being said, Wilson is obviously here in spring training, and there’s no better way to start off the year. While Wilson isn’t in contention for a roster spot now, look for the Nats to be aggressive in promoting him. He could be at Double-A Harrisburg by midseason if he responds well to the challenge.

#88 — Gerardo Parra

Gerardo Parra

2020 stats (NPB): 55 G, 178 PA, .272 AVG, .309 OBP, .379 SLG, 4 HR, 0/2 SB
2019 stats (majors): 119 G, 301 PA, .234 AVG, .293 OBP, .391 SLG, 9 HR, 8/11 SB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? No
Primary position: LF
Secondary positions: CF, RF

Like Guerra and Barrett, Parra hardly needs any introduction. While not a spectacular on-field contributor, as the Nationals’ fourth outfielder for most of the 2019 championship season, Parra was a sort of team mascot, sparking the bizarre (but lovable) “Baby Shark” tradition at Nationals Park and contributing to the clubhouse’s relaxed vibe.

Last year, Parra went to Japan, playing for the Yomiuri Giants. It did not go well. Despite the hyper-offense environment of Nippon Professional Baseball, Parra managed a paltry .688 OPS, hitting just four home runs across 55 games. Unsurprisingly, Yomiuri didn’t pick up a 2021 option to keep Parra around, and the Venezuelan landed back in Washington on a minor league deal.

It’s hard to know what to make of Parra’s signing. It could be a favor by Mike Rizzo to a player who wasn’t dazzling during his 2019 stint with the Nats but was nonetheless beloved by fans, teammates, and coaches. It could be an attempt to reinvigorate a team that badly underperformed in the 2020 season by giving spring training a fun, back-to-basics vibe. Or it could be Parra is a legitimate candidate to make the major league bench. For what it’s worth, after news of his signing broke, Fangraphs’ Roster Resource bumped rostered infielder Jake Noll off its projected bench in favor of Parra to make the team out of spring training.

Assuming Parra isn’t in camp just for novelty’s sake, it bears watching whether he can recapture some of his old form. After all, Parra was about a league-average hitter with the Nats (.250/.747), but his brief, terrible run with the San Francisco Giants dragged down his overall statline in that 2019 season. Maybe he’s just allergic to jerseys with the word “GIANTS” on them?

Remember, while we shouldn’t expect Parra to be great, he doesn’t really have to be. The last bench spot is not traditionally filled by a player who can swat 20 home runs, reach base more than one-third of the time, and play above-average defense. In 2019, Parra was a “glue guy” for the Nats whose real contributions were to team chemistry, but who did enough on the field to justify his presence on the roster as more than just a mascot. Maybe in 2021, that’s all the Nats need him to be.

#89 — Jacob Condra-Bogan

Jacob Condra-Bogan

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 38 G (1 GS), 62⅓ IP, 1 SV, 3.61 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 4.55 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Meet your new favorite Nats minor leaguer.

Not a high-profile name within the organization, Condra-Bogan nonetheless is an interesting guy. He earned his master’s degree taking online classes during the 2018 season, in which he was traded from the Kansas City Royals to Washington for outfielder Brian Goodwin. He was in foster care as an adolescent before being adopted (along with his sister) by his foster family when he was 15. He is a thoughtful presence on social media, both in talking about sports and social issues. He can also shove, with a fastball that has been clocked at 99 mph.

Condra-Bogan got great results in 2019 at Double-A Harrisburg, with strong peripherals and good success as a multi-inning reliever. He’s known for his extremely low walk rate, which is a career 1.5 per nine innings across his two minor league seasons, or 17 walks against 103 strikeouts.

So, he has a blistering fastball, a great minor league track record, and outstanding makeup. Why isn’t Condra-Bogan a ballyhooed prospect? Well, for one, he didn’t actually make his professional debut until he was 23. He chose not to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays when they drafted him out of Georgia Southern University in the 32nd round in 2017. He then went on to play with the Washington Wild Things (in the independent Frontier League) in 2017 before the Royals signed him as a free agent. He’ll turn 27 in August. And for another, evaluators have been harsh on Condra-Bogan’s pitchability, noting that while he throws hard enough to overpower minor league hitters, his fastball has relatively little movement and his secondary pitches aren’t anything to write home about. Judging by his minor league results, if he’s a one-trick pony, it’s a great trick. But baseball gets exponentially harder at the highest levels, and evaluators have written off Condra-Bogan as a potential contributor there.

Well, this is Condra-Bogan’s chance to prove them wrong. He’s a participant in major league spring training for the first time, and with his bolt of lightning and his strong character, he’s got standout tools that he hopes will impress team brass or potentially open up an opportunity outside the organization. Not a top candidate for the Nats’ bullpen on Opening Day, Condra-Bogan nevertheless could establish himself as viable depth in case of injuries during the season. He’ll probably start the year at Triple-A Rochester, with little left to prove at the Double-A level.

#90 — Gabe Klobosits

Gabe Klobosits

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 18 G (0 GS), 26⅔ IP, 0 SV, 2.03 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 1.73 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Giving Jacob Condra-Bogan a run for his money on the “lovable underdog” side of camp, Klobosits came into the Nats organization as a 36th-round senior out of Auburn University, a hulking 6-foot-7, 270-lb mountain of a man with boyish features and an 80-grade mustache.

In his first professional season in 2017, Klobosits flattened the competition. It didn’t matter that he was a 22-year-old first-time professional player or a late-round draftee. He pitched to a 1.47 ERA with a tight 2.3 BB/9 and a commanding 10.0 K/9 and finished out the year at Low-A Hagerstown, rocketing onto organizational top-30 prospect charts.

But his exceptional command wavered over 11 games at High-A Potomac in 2018, and Klobosits discovered he needed Tommy John surgery, ending his season early and dealing a tough blow to a senior draftee hoping to defy the odds and rise quickly to the majors. On his return to action in 2019, Klobosits’ command was improved, but his strikeout stuff dipped sharply.

The Nats didn’t bring Klobosits to spring training or to the alternate training site in 2020, but he did pitch in instructional league. Evidently, the Nats were pleased enough by what they saw from the towering Texan to invite him to major league camp this spring in West Palm Beach. He’s well out on the fringes of competition for a bullpen spot, and he’ll probably report to Double-A Harrisburg for the minor league season, but the Nats will get an extended look at what Klobosits, 26 in May, can do on the hill.

And speaking of the hill, Klobosits ain’t over it. Pure relievers like Klobosits can have meteoric trajectories in the major leagues, no matter what age they break in. There are plenty of pitchers who stormed the majors in their early 20s, but then got hurt or hit hard and never got back into The Show. (Just ask Koda Glover.) And there are plenty whose development took some time, who finally made it on the “wrong side” of 25 and ended up having solid careers. The odds may be against Klobosits, but that hasn’t stopped him before.

#91 — Tyler Dyson

Tyler Dyson

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 9 G (9 GS), 33⅔ IP, 1.07 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 2.13 K/BB
2019 stats (college): 11 G (9 GS), 43⅔ IP, 4.95 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 1.48 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Until now, Tyler Dyson might have been the best-kept secret in the Nats minor league system. With his first invitation to major league spring training, the secret might be out.

The Nats think they may have gotten a major steal in this University of Florida product, who was widely expected to be a first-round draft pick heading into the 2019 collegiate season. Coming off an up-and-down 2018 season, Dyson was seen as a likely rebound candidate, with evaluators anticipating he would right the ship and get back to his dominant freshman form. Instead, Dyson struggled worse than before in his junior year. His free-fall down the draft board finally ended in the fifth round, when he was selected by the Nats. With little leverage as a junior, he opted to turn pro.

Dyson was a different pitcher as he got going with the Short Season-A Auburn Doubledays. His strikeouts were way down, but so were baserunners, as he was tough to hit and didn’t give up many free passes. He got a little buzz, but not a lot, and figured as one of the most intriguing prospects in the system heading into a 2020 season that could either revitalize his top prospect status or cement his fall from grace. But the 2020 minor league season was canceled, and Dyson didn’t get to play.

The Nats didn’t bring Dyson up to Fredericksburg to join the 60-man player pool, but they did invite him to instructional league at West Palm Beach after the season. He’s now in his first major league spring training camp, where he can get an early start heading into a crucial age-23 season and be evaluated more closely by Nats player development staff.

Expect Dyson to start the season either at Low-A Fredericksburg or High-A Wilmington. The key to watch will be whether he can get his K game back without sacrificing his command. If he can get everything working, well, he was a consensus first-round draft pick who fell into the fifth round after a couple of mediocre seasons in college. Who knows what could happen?

#92 — Todd Peterson

Todd Peterson

2020 stats (majors): N/A
2019 stats (minors): 10 G (5 GS), 38⅔ IP, 0 SV, 3.49 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.36 K/BB
2019 stats (college): 29 G (1 GS), 49 IP, 3 SV, 3.86 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.44 K/BB
On the 40-man roster? No
Minor league options remaining? Yes

Peterson’s pitching career is a little bit backward.

Normally, you’d expect to see a major league organization draft a college starter and then start developing them as a reliever. But Peterson was primarily a reliever at Louisiana State University. After he turned pro as the Nats’ seventh-round draft pick in 2019, Peterson quickly moved up to Short Season-A Auburn and into the rotation there.

It’s unclear what the Nats plan for Peterson in the future. He’s a big guy, 6-foot-5 and 230 lbs, with a big personality, attracting some attention from The Washington Post for a clutch RBI hit in the SEC tournament (so the story goes, his manager told him to take three strikes and then go out to pitch the bottom half of the inning, but Peterson told him he was a home run hitter in high school and convinced him to let him swing away; Peterson confessed afterward that his high school coach never let him hit). He can dial his fastball up to 98 mph and pairs it with a slider as his best secondary pitch, a fairly standard arsenal for a modern power pitcher. But he wasn’t a top draft pick and he’s not a highly ranked prospect.

The Nats clearly like Peterson, because here he is in camp, although he was not part of last season’s 60-man player pool. This is a good opportunity for him, like the other young pitchers in camp, to learn from some of the best and perhaps get an opportunity to show off in an exhibition or two.

Peterson, who just turned 23 in January, probably starts the season at Low-A Fredericksburg after finishing out 2019 in Auburn and then losing a year in 2020. He could potentially hop to High-A Wilmington by midseason. He’d likely move faster as a pure reliever, and it’s possible the Nats will revert to using him that way, but a starter’s development is typically more deliberate.


The Nats have 33 non-roster invitees in camp this year, joining 39 players on the 40-man roster. Of the 39 rostered players, three were in the organization last season and were promoted to the 40-man roster after the season; seven signed or were otherwise acquired from outside the organization on major league contracts since the end of the season; and 29 are carried over from last year’s 40-man roster.

In total, the Nats have 72 players in major league camp out of a maximum allowable 75. That leaves them with a little bit of wiggle room for additional invitations or acquisitions.

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