2021 Nationals Player Grades Part 2

Photo by Sol Tucker for TalkNats

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is written as a direct segue from the previous installation

Alcides Escobar, IF: Escobar was one of the best surprises for the Nats this season. He was signed during the summer when the Nats were dealing with multiple injuries up the middle. He played second base at first, but after the Trade Deadline, he manned shortstop for the rest of the season. Escobar was a tremendous spark plug and was a great contact hitter at the top of the order. Even though he is no longer the stolen base threat he once was, he was a great addition to the team. He recently earned himself another contract from the Nationals, a one year deal for 2022. 

Paolo Espino, RHP: Coming into the season, Espino was really not considered to be a contributor for the team. Once injuries struck the team, Espino made a few spot starts with astonishing success. By the end of the season, he was one of the most dependable starters on the roster. His breaking ball-oriented pitching style kept hitters off balance. He throws a true 12-6 curveball and does so while rarely exceeding 90 MPH on the radar gun. He does happen to be a free agent at the end of the season, so the Nats should attempt to re-sign the veteran as a stabilizing presence. 

Erick Fedde, RHP: Fedde is one of the biggest statistical anomalies from 2021. He had a negative WAR (-1.4), but he always appeared to pitch better than that. He, like many young pitchers, struggled with consistency. That concept will be brought up often when discussing the 2021 Nats. On April 17, he was dominant against the Diamondbacks, striking out nine in just five innings. He could go on a run for a few starts where he looked untouchable, punctuated by his lengthy scoreless innings streak. Conversely, he can look simply miserable. It all revolves around control for Fedde. When he is not walking batters, he is actually very difficult to hit. Baseball Reference compares his trajectory to that of Yusmeiro Petit, a career long reliever. The Nats will most likely give Fedde another chance in 2022. That being said, the clock is certainly ticking for him to prove something to the organization. 

Kyle Finnegan, RHP: Finnegan was coming off a surprising 2020 season that saw him as a truly effective season as a rookie. In his second year in the league, he pitched admirably out of the bullpen. He eventually was given the closer role after the Trade Deadline. He performed decently in the role, although a few notable hiccups will stew in the minds of many fans. Overall, he pitched admirably and has, if nothing else, earned himself a few more years on the roster to prove himself. 

Luis Garcia, 2B: After the offloading of multiple veterans at the Trade Deadline, the Nats gave the keys to second base to Garcia. After impressing in limited action in 2020, Garcia was looking to cement himself as a mainstay for years to come. He had some very impressive moments, but he did perform as a 21 year old is expected: unevenly. His low batting average suggests a lot of room to improve, but he has shown flashes of brilliance. After hitting for more power than years past, he needs to take steps forward in the contact department in order to reach his full potential. On a rebuilding team, Garcia will be given every opportunity to play and grow into the All Star level player the organization hopes he will become. 

Yan Gomes, C: For the first half of the season, there might not have been a more valuable player in the field than Gomes. His hitting stats were relatively pedestrian, but his ability to throw out runners and call a game was his biggest contribution. He caught 36% of opposing base runners, well above the league average of 25%. Gomes was later traded to Oakland at the Deadline, but his presence was clearly missed. He is a pending free agent, although a reunion seems unlikely with the current catcher depth. 

Josiah Gray, RHP: Gray is one of the two best prospects the Nats received in exchange for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. Immediately upon arriving in Washington, he was thrust into the starting rotation. Early on, the returns looked incredible, but he cooled off heavily towards the end of the season. His mid 90s fastball and duo of breaking balls make him a huge strikeout threat. He tends to live up in the zone with his fastball, which is something that makes him prone to giving up home runs. Gray showed a lot of potential in the months spent in DC. He has a lot to improve, Gray will be one of the pitchers to watch moving forward. 

Javy Guerra, RHP: Guerra was a cog in the 2019 World Series run as an inning eater out of the bullpen. However, his role in 2021 was mainly as a mop up guy in limited action. He only appeared in four games and was designated for assignment before accepting an assignment to AAA. He most likely does not have a future with the club. 

Brad Hand, LHP: One of the last additions to the roster, Hand was signed to a one year deal. He was the presumed closer for the Nats coming off a down year in 2020 for Cleveland. Hand was very effective early in the season, posting numerous saves to begin the campaign. By the time June and July rolled around, Hand’s effectiveness began to dwindle. He blew multiple key saves, and by the time the Trade Deadline approached, the writing was all but on the wall for him to be dealt. Sure enough, he was the first player to be traded when he was moved to the Toronto Blue Jays. He was not any better north of the border. Eventually, he was released before signing with the Mets late in the year. As a pending free agent at the age of 31, there is a strong likelihood that 2021 was his final season due to his ineffectiveness.

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