I wasn’t sure if I’d end up writing again so soon after my last post, but some things have caught my eye in the last couple games. First, the battle for a spot on the Opening Day pitching staff might not be as settled as it appeared. Second, the gap between the Nationals’ top two prospects appears to be closing.
We’ll start with the pitchers. Voth entered Spring Training with a fairly firm grip on a roster spot — either as the fifth starter or as a multi-inning reliever. After a very solid first performance last Sunday, he seemed to have that position nearly locked up. But then Friday’s outing happened.
It wasn’t a terrible game for Voth, but it was much closer to what should realistically be expected of him. The lineup the Rays deployed against him also wasn’t particularly daunting — Yandy Diaz was the only player in it who is expected to start for them in the regular season.
If nothing else, the mixed performance against a weak lineup suggests that the success he had in his first appearance of the spring may have been due to the same thing — a lineup that only featured one bonafide big league hitter. It’s also a reminder that Joe Ross faced a far tougher group on Wednesday with great results. Until Ross proves otherwise, he may now have some separation from Voth in the fifth starter battle.
Through one start, Fedde appeared closer to Wil Crowe — fighting for the top position in the minor leagues — than winning an Opening Day roster spot. As the great Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friend!”
The biggest point I take away from this performance — aside from it being better than his first — is that he’s been great before facing some sort of adversity. I’m not quite sure what to make of that in the grand scheme of things. If he made the roster, would those problems go away in the regular season, since he’d theoretically have a better defensive group behind him? Or should this be a cautionary tale of how he isn’t ready to pitch at the big league level yet?
With that said, I do believe adversity is the problem. Fedde is a good pitcher, and he had quite a few solid outings last year — even at the big league level — but others ended abruptly. That’s most likely because he hasn’t learned how to effectively deal with failure. It’s all part of the developmental process; it’s just taking longer for Fedde for some reason. Keep an eye on it, though. If he improves in this area, there is a real chance that he makes the Opening Day roster.
In theory, Fedde could jump ahead of Voth. He’s always been held in higher regard as a prospect. However, there’s also a chance that Fedde simply becomes a reliever — possibly a multi-inning one, much like what might be coming for Voth.
The Nationals said goodbye to Anthony Rendon in free agency. They didn’t match the Twins’ offer for Josh Donaldson. They didn’t significantly pursue a veteran trade candidate like Nolan Arenado or Kris Bryant. Instead, they chose to believe in their top prospect — a converted shortstop — to at least offset some of the lost production and take over at third base.
So far, he doesn’t look like a third baseman.
It’s not incredibly surprising that he isn’t a finished product defensively, and no one expected him to offer what Rendon did at the hot corner. Still, the rate at which the miscues are coming is rather unsettling.
As if that isn’t enough, he’s not making great contact at the plate, either.
Thank goodness he has plate discipline, because that’s the only positive trait he’s shown so far this spring. Unless things turn around for him in a massive way, he’s making himself a strong candidate to be sent back to the minor leagues — which already provides the organization with certain benefits.
If Asdrubal Cabrera starts to receive more time at third than Kieboom in the upcoming weeks, consider that a sign that the veteran will start the season there while the younger hitter serves a minor league assignment.
I did not expect Garcia to have an incredibly statistically productive spring. For someone in his position, the goal is typically for him to look clean defensively and compete in the batter’s box. If hits come along the way, that’s a bonus, but he really just needs to not look overwhelmed by the competition he’s facing.
I recently mentioned the importance of this spring for Garcia, in terms of carrying over momentum he had built late in 2019. So far, he’s absolutely doing that.
I really don’t want to compare him to Juan Soto, but he is 19 years old, he played in the Dominican Republic before signing with the Nationals, he’s a very good contact hitter, and his approach at the plate — ok, it lacks a “Soto shuffle” — looks eerily similar to the Nationals’ young phenom.
He doesn’t have Soto’s power, but he’s a slick-fielding middle infielder. In that sense, he’s leaps and bounds ahead of Kieboom — in spite of his youth. In many respects, he appears to be in the early stages of a Spring Training much like the one Wilmer Difo had in 2015 — which astoundingly happened after he spent 2014 in Low-A Hagerstown. That spring led to Difo being promoted from the minors on multiple occasions in 2015 — although he played sparingly for Washington that year.
Unless he gets promoted in September, Garcia probably won’t play for the Nationals in 2020. Nonetheless, Difo serves as a solid blueprint for how he could force the team’s hand. Crazier things have happened.
Speaking of Difo, he will likely be the biggest beneficiary if Kieboom doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. He’s essentially been himself so far this spring — he has a .250 batting average with a triple while playing adequate defense across most of the infield. Based on what portions of games he’s playing in, where in the lineup he’s batting when he starts games and productivity, he seems to be ahead of Adrian Sanchez — his top competitor who, like him, is out of minor league options.
As long as he and Andrew Stevenson appear similarly viable as big league players, Difo likely wins because Stevenson can be sent to the minors at no cost.
Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin each made their spring debuts over the last two days. Neither had stellar outings — Strasburg’s was actually quite subpar — but they got their work in, came out healthy, and are on track in their preparation for the season.
The same cannot be said for Victor Robles. In what was supposed to be a very important spring for him — as he was competing to become a leadoff hitter — he has been hit with an injury.
By all accounts, it shouldn’t be a long-term injury, but Robles hasn’t played in the last three games — which certainly doesn’t help him or the team in their latest endeavor.
Lastly, here are two quick shoutouts for minor leaguers in Spring Training with the Nationals:
- Yadiel Hernandez, who hasn’t produced like he did at AAA Fresno in 2019, for drawing a start in the last two games — something that is uncommon for a player with no big league experience or high standing as a prospect.
- Brandon Snyder, the 33-year-old Chantilly, VA product who had a walk-off single last Sunday and hasn’t stopped hitting since.
No team wants to be 2-5 at this stage of the spring, but the preseason is the most ideal time to lose games. All that really matters is how players look, finding a way to get the top 26 guys onto the Opening Day roster, and allowing the rest to develop further in the minor leagues.
For now, here’s the upcoming schedule:
- Sunday: at Mets (1:10 p.m.)
- Monday: vs. Marlins (1:05 p.m.)
- Tuesday: vs. Orioles (1:05 p.m.)
- Wednesday: off
- Thursday: vs. Cardinals (6:05 p.m., MASN/MLBN)
- Friday: at Marlins (7:05 p.m.)
- Saturday: vs. Marlins (1:05 p.m.) and at Mets (1:10 p.m.)
- Sunday, 3/8: vs. Tigers (1:05 p.m.)
Anibal Sanchez will face Jacob deGrom — who is making his spring debut — tomorrow. After that, nothing is announced, but expect the standard starting pitchers to take over — which would mean Ross on Monday and Max Scherzer on Tuesday, with Strasburg and Corbin likely to follow the off day.