Prospects in the Nationals' 2020 player pool
As part of the new rules for the 2020 Major League season, each of the 30 organizations will maintain a 60-man player pool for the duration of the campaign. Some members of the player pool will feature on the active Major League roster while others will work out at an
As part of the new rules for the 2020 Major League season, each of the 30 organizations will maintain a 60-man player pool for the duration of the campaign. Some members of the player pool will feature on the active Major League roster while others will work out at an alternate training site in the hopes of staying fresh for a potential callup or getting in much-needed development time.
The MiLB.com staff is rounding up the notable prospects in each organization’s 60-man player pool and analyzing what the new system will mean for their 2020 seasons.
The Nationals used every spot on their 60-man player pool for the initial deadline. Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross and Welington Castillo have since opted out because of the risks associated with playing baseball during the COVID-19 pandemic. First-rounder Cade Cavalli was added to the pool, leaving Washington with 58 players -- 36 pitchers, five catchers, 10 infielders and seven outfielders -- to participate in Summer Camp at Nationals Park.
Half of the Nationals' Top 30 prospects made the cut. That group contains a hopeful lineup mainstay, the next generation of Nats pitching, developmental projects and emergency depth. Whoever doesn’t make the 30-man roster for Opening Day on July 23 or 24 will head to the Nats’ alternate training site, likely their Class A Advanced affiliate’s new ballpark in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Here are the candidates from the top down:
Jackson Rutledge, RHP: In the absence of a Minor League season, Jackson’s presence in the pool allows the Nats to continue to develop the 17th overall pick in last year's Draft. Rutledge impressed in his debut last season, throwing most of his 37 1/3 innings in six starts for Class A Hagerstown. The 21-year-old posted a 2.30 ERA with the Suns, striking out 31 and walking 11. His fastball averaged 99 mph and he’ll continue to hone a four-pitch mix. But Washington’s No. 3 prospect is not a Major Leaguer just yet.
Cade Cavalli, RHP: The Nats were thrilled to get Cavalli with the 22nd overall pick in last month’s Draft, and the trio of opt outs to start camp meant Washington had an opportunity to get him into its facility sooner than expected amid the shutdown. That’s especially important because Cavalli wasn’t a full-time pitcher at Oklahoma until his abbreviated junior season this spring. Over 23 2/3 innings, he struck out 37 and walked only five but posted a 4.18 ERA. Being around the likes of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg won’t make for a bad start to his pro career.
Wil Crowe, RHP: Crowe might not have the ceiling of Rutledge, but he’s closer to being Major League-ready and could factor more prominently in the Nationals’ immediate plans. The 2017 second-rounder went 11-0 with a 2.69 ERA over 87 innings in the Carolina League in his first full season before fading at Double-A. He went back to Double-A for the first three months last season and posted a 3.87 ERA, then earned a promotion to Triple-A Fresno. His ERA climbed to 6.17 with the Grizzlies, but the ball soared in the Pacific Coast League. In all, the fourth-ranked Nats prospect led the system with 149 1/3 innings and finished second with 130 strikeouts. Crowe won’t need to be that kind of a workhorse in 2020, but his dependability could lead to an MLB debut.
Tim Cate, LHP: The 2018 second-rounder split his first full season between Hagerstown and Class A Advanced Potomac and thrived. His fastball averaged just 89 mph, but his system-best curveball helped him post a 3.07 ERA with 139 strikeouts over 143 2/3 innings. In an ideal world, Cate could have gotten a crack at the Eastern League this season and put himself on the precipice of the Majors with more success. That obviously won’t happen, but a spot in the player pool allows the Nats to closely monitor their No. 8 prospect’s training and put him in the best position possible once the Minor Leagues pick up again.
Seth Romero, LHP: The No. 9 Nationals prospect is not in camp as a Major League option. He’s thrown only 47 1/3 innings since Washington drafted him with the 25th overall pick in 2017. The team sent him home from his first Spring Training in 2018 for violating team rules, then he made only seven starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery that kept him off the field in 2019. Romero, though, reportedly impressed in the instructional league last fall, hitting 95 mph with a fastball that moves. His slider is not as good as it once was, but his changeup is better. Being picked for the pool proves to Romero that the Nationals are still serious about his development, even with his injury and off-field history.
Matt Cronin, LHP: Cronin, a 2019 fourth-rounder and the No. 10 Nats prospect, rocks a two-pitch mix and shoved a 0.82 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 11 walks over 22 innings at Hagerstown during his debut. He’s a true bullpen prospect. It’s likely he's in camp for developmental purposes, just like the pitchers listed above. But in a season in which pitchers won’t have as much time to get their arms ready, the Nationals could do a lot worse than Cronin if they find themselves in need of bullpen help. Just a thought.
Joan Adon, RHP: Washington transitioned its No. 16 prospect from a reliever to a starter last year and the move was too successful to let 2020 completely pause Adon’s development. The 21-year-old spent the entire season in the Hagerstown rotation and finished with a 3.86 ERA, a figure ballooned by allowing 18 earned runs in July alone. Otherwise, Adon saw his fastball heat up to 96 mph. Refinement of his secondary pitches while training in the Nats’ player pool will be a summer well spent.
Tres Barrera, C: Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki have the Nats’ Major League catching duties handled, but someone will have to serve as the taxi squad catcher when Washington travels. Castillo could have filled that role, but he’s opted out of the 2020 season. So consider the 19th-ranked Barrera, who climbed a level a year since he was a sixth-round pick in 2016 and hit .249/.323/.381 at Double-A Harrisburg last year before getting his first taste of the Majors in September. More importantly, the Nationals are fans of Barrera’s work behind the plate, making him a logical choice should they need help beyond Gomes and Suzuki.
Jake Irvin, RHP: A 2018 fourth-rounder, Irvin also performed well in the Hagerstown rotation last year. After a rough April, he posted a 2.95 ERA over his final 20 starts. He’s 6-foot-6 with a mid-90s fastball, and his curveball and changeup are under construction. Much like those listed above, the 21st-ranked Nats prospect doesn’t figure to factor into 2020, barring an emergency. But Washington clearly has committed to pitching in the amateur market in recent years, and it's renewed that commitment with the player pool by bringing along the likeliest members of the next generation of arms.
Other notables: No. 22 prospect Ben Braymer had outperformed his 18th-round status until struggling in the second half of last season with Triple-A Fresno. He’s on the 40-man roster. … James Bourque (No. 23) didn’t thrive in his debut or subsequent stint in Triple-A last year. He’s bullpen depth already on the 40-man roster. … Steven Fuentes (No. 24) broke out in 2019 before a suspension ended his season in August. The right-hander has experience starting and out of the ‘pen. … Backstops Raudy Read (No. 25) and Jakson Reetz (No. 28) will jockey with Barrera for the third catching spot. Reetz is the only one of the three not on the 40-man roster.
Joe Bloss is a contributor for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss.