Nationals struggles could open door for minor-league prospects

April 16, 2018 GMT

Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy had knee surgery in October and has yet to play in a major league game this season.

Catcher Matt Wieters went on the disabled list April 2 and outfielder Adam Eaton followed nine days later. Starting pitcher A.J. Cole made just two starts before veteran Jeremy Hellickson was slated to take his spot in the rotation Monday night in New York, when the slumping Nationals were set to begin a three-game series against the division-leading Mets.

The major league season is less than a month old and the organizational depth of the Nationals is already being tested. While the Opening Day roster has 25 players, the 40-man roster may be just as important especially when a big league club is patching as many holes as Washington is.

“There is a lot of hard work that goes into the offseason,” said Mark Scialabba, director of player development for the Nationals. “You need depth at Triple-A, and Double-A. Our job is to provide Mike [Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo], the front office and coaches depth in case anything goes wrong. We have already seen that.

“Injuries “are part of the game. Who do you have to replace those players, hopefully for a short period time? We feel very good about the starting pitching depth,” added Scialabba, in an interview at Nationals Park on Sunday.

The Natonals, regarded as one of the better-stocked organizations in the MLB, have several prospects who could end up helping the team at some point this year:

Triple-A Syracuse (NY) Chiefs, International League

One of the top young pitchers for the Nationals is right-hander Austin Voth, who has not yet played in the majors. He had an ERA of 1.69 in his first two minor league starts this season.

“Austin is in a very good place. His hard work and dedication in the offseason are starting to bear fruit,” Scialabba said. “He is off to a great start.”

The Nationals’ have two veteran big league starters at Syracuse who were with the team in spring training: lefty Tommy Milone and right-hander Edwin Jackson. Milone (0-0, 6.10 ERA through Sunday) was drafted by the Nationals and then re-joined the organization while Jackson (0-0, 2.00) pitched last season for Washington.

“They are certainly very much part of our depth,” Scialabba said. “They are experienced and Edwin was with us last year and helped our team. His second outing (with the Chiefs) was better than his first. With Tommy, he has done an outstanding job, too. He can provide depth and provide an option for us.”

Right-hander Erick Fedde, a top young prospect, had a 2.70 ERA in his first two starts with the Chiefs.

Two outfielders at Syracuse with who saw action last year with the Nationals are Rafael Bautista and Andrew Stevenson. Bautista hit .286 in his first three games with Syracuse. Stevenson was hitting .138 in games through Sunday.

“Stevenson is certainly someone we could call on at some point,” Scialabba said. “He could provide defense and hopefully put the ball in play (on offense). Bautista began the season in Double-A to play every day with (Victor) Robles in center in Syracuse.”

Outfielder Victor Robles, the top prospect in the system, hurt his wrist while diving for a ball last week but X-rays were negative. Veteran catcher Tuffy Gosewisch, who played for Seattle last season, made his debut for Syracuse on Saturday.

Double-A Harrisburg (PA) Senators, Eastern League

One of the best young pitching prospects for the Nationals is Jefry Rodriguez, who had a 2.25 ERA after throwing 6.2 scoreless innings on Friday against the Bowie Baysox.

“He is throwing the ball very well,” Scialabba said. “He picked up where he left off last year (at Single-A Potomac). He has command of his fastball and is throwing strikes. His curveball is improving. He is making strides with his changeup. He can provide us with some depth down the road.”

Another pitcher who has yet to make the majors is lefty reliever Bryan Harper, the brother of all-star outfielder Bryce Harper. He was a non-roster invitee and did not allow a run in his first three outings for Harrisburg.

High Single-A Potomac Nationals, Carolina League

One of the top young pitchers for the Nationals is Wil Crowe, a second-round pick out of the University of South Carolina last year. He allowed one run in five innings Saturday against the Frederick Keys and has an ERA of 3.60 in his first two starts.

“Wil is off to a great start as well,” Scialabba said. “We challenged him a little to be at that level. He earned that right. He is not afraid to pitch inside. He is only going to get better. He has a fastball, slider changeup and curve. He is exciting young right-hander pitcher for us.”

Low Single-Hagerstown (MD) Suns, South Atlantic League

Perhaps the best young hitting prospect in the low minors for Washington is outfielder Juan Soto, 19, who had four hits in a game April 8 and then three more two days later for Hagerstown. He was hitting .361 in games through Sunday.

“Great start. That is what we expected from Juan,” Scialabba said. “He is very consistent from at-bat to at-bat. He is strong and healthy and that is what we wanted to see the first half of the season. He has a chance to be a very good defender and baserunner as well.”