It’s that time of year! Active rosters across the MLB will be able to expand from 25 players to as many as 40. Anyone on the 40-man roster — or moved to it after another player is either transferred to the 60-day injured list or designated for assignment — is eligible to play for the major league team starting on September 1. Here are some names that you can expect to see in the last month of the season.
Most likely, anyone playing in AA Harrisburg will likely stay put for a little while, since the team is in the playoffs, which provides those prospects with more playing time. Nonetheless, I will make note of them, as well as rehabbing players or those who are in AAA Fresno.
I’ll go rapid fire here. While prospect Wil Crowe is intriguing, the only starting pitchers who might get a look are Jeremy Hellickson and Austin Voth, both of whom are rehabbing from the IL. Personally, I wouldn’t even bother with Hellickson (partly due to incentives in his contract that he’s close to earning). I could see Voth as a long reliever, but Erick Fedde already has the upper hand as a potential sixth starter.
The bullpen is where it gets interesting. Of the guys on the 40-man, Kyle McGowin will be recalled, and Austen Williams and James Bourque (in that order) could be, although I view them as expendable. The two more intriguing pieces are Greg Holland and Aaron Barrett. Either of them would have to be selected from AA, with someone being removed from the 40-man for them.
Holland is a long-time closer, but he pitched for the Nationals down the stretch last year to the tune of a sparkling 0.84 ERA in 24 appearances. He struggled to throw strikes for the Diamondbacks earlier this year (although his .198 batting average against was very impressive), but he’s improved his strikeout-to-walk ration to 3:1 in nine shutout innings for Washington’s AA affiliate.
Barrett is a success story, but he’s also been very successful on the mound this year. The former budding setup man for the major league squad has a 2.75 ERA and 31 saves for AA Harrisburg, averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings, and batters have a .199 batting average against him. Much like Holland, if there’s a way to get Barrett a September trial run, I get that sense that the Nationals would love to do it.
The elder Kieboom brother has hit a wall offensively, but he’s been recalled a couple times this season to serve as a third catcher, so it’s only logical that he will be once again. He is in Harrisburg, however, so a return might be delayed.
Read is the more interesting catching prospect. He’s hit north of .270 in the upper-minors with more-than-playable power. He also has five multi-hit games (including a trio of three-hit games) in his last 10 outings, as well as a .421 batting average. Don’t be surprised if he cuts into Yan Gomes and/or Kurt Suzuki’s workload.
Difo will be back, even though he completely fell out of favor this year. Difo’s defense, while spotty, is average-to-above at second base and he is serviceable at shortstop and third base. He probably won’t play any of those spots much, but he’s an emergency option at a minimum.
Difo’s offensive splits have always been odd. In the two years he received considerable playing time (2017-18), he was a roughly .300 hitter at home, but a sub-.200 hitter on the road. I don’t know if there’s anything to that, but it certainly illustrates his offensive inconsistencies. So his recent success in AAA — 14 hits in his last 27 at bats, along with an .889 slugging percentage — is notable, even if it doesn’t net him reps during this year’s playoff race.
Sanchez has somewhat surprisingly jumped Difo on the depth chart this year, although his production has merited it. He’s batting .316 in 69 games at Harrisburg this year, and he’s shown some semblance of power at that level.
His role is similar to Difo’s. Who gets time in the infield between the two — if there’s even any to be had — will depend upon who shows more consistent glove work.
Here’s the big fish. Outside of a pair of quick home runs, the younger Kieboom struggled mightily on both ends while briefly filling in for Trea Turner this season. But he is the organization’s top prospect, and his accolades across the last two years are extensive — the 2016 first-round pick is a rare two-time minor league Futures Game selection, two-time (and soon to be three) organizational All-Star, Arizona Fall League Rising Star (All-Star equivalent) in 2018, and Pacific Coast League Postseason All-Star this year.
Above all else, the organization must decide what his future position is, although a healthy chunk of that is out of his hands — All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon is an upcoming free agent, and his presence or lack thereof will determine where Kieboom plays. Even so, the Nationals need to give him reps across the infield to see what he can do, even if he only starts once or twice per week.
I’m leaving Jake Noll out of this discussion. He’s a corner infielder, which provides less defensively; he hasn’t had an amazing year in the minor leagues; and he’s ultimately stuck behind a logjam of guys who either have more experience or potential than him.
Michael A. Taylor
The longtime National is in Harrisburg, so his return won’t be immediate, but it’s rightfully coming. Even when he isn’t hitting, he’s a strong defender and provides speed on the base paths. I wouldn’t expect to see him start often — and possibly not at all — but he will likely be a go-to late-game pinch runner and defensive substitution.
For what it’s worth, his offensive production has improved recently in the minor leagues. He’s had three or more hits in four of his last 10 games, during which he has a .410 average. Perhaps that should be expected against lesser competition, but it’s still an improvement. He also has nearly as many walks (four) as strikeouts (five) over that span, which is equally eye-popping.
Stevenson will definitely be back (although he’s in Harrisburg now), and he might play a legitimate role. After struggling as a hitter since being promoted to AAA in early 2017, the young outfielder has finally figured it out this year. He has a .334 batting average in Fresno (where he’s spent most of the season) and a .350 average in 20 at bats with the Nationals this year, mainly as a pinch hitter.
There’s somewhat of a rallying cry for Yadiel Hernandez, but I don’t see it happening, even though the production is there (.325/.404/.601 slash line with 31 home runs in AAA). He’s not on the 40-man yet, the outfield would have six players even without him, and — most importantly — he’s undersized and will turn 32 in October. He’s just not worth dumping a younger player for.
Most of these players won’t have substantial roles if and when they are promoted, but September call-ups are a great way to give players who had successful minor league seasons some exposure at the highest level. And who knows; any of them would be eligible for the postseason roster if they look to be up to the task.