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A Wild Week Of Promotions In Washington

Before last night's 8-5 win over Cincinnati, the Washington Nationals had lost four consecutive games. Earlier this week, they were also held scoreless for 26 innings in a row – almost three complete games.

It’s been tough to watch.

It’s unfortunately nothing new, but as it turns out, the slump from the batter’s box hasn’t been the most important story this week.

Star performers at all levels of the Nationals organization have been rewarded this week. Left-handed pitcher Evan Lee made his major league debut, infielder Luis Garcia returned to the big stage, and plenty of other notable minor league prospects moved up a level as a result of their excellent performance during the first two months of this season.

A New Lee-der On The Mound

Prior to Wednesday’s series finale against the Mets, southpaw Evan Lee got the call that every baseball player dreams of. In Lee’s case, it came in hilarious yet heartwarming fashion.

After a successful 2021 in High-A Wilmington, which earned him a spot on the 40-man roster over the offseason, the 24-year-old from Arkansas had pitched to a 3.60 ERA in seven starts at Double-A Harrisburg this season.

Lee’s innings have been limited all season, and that held true again in his Washington debut, in which he only lasted three and two-thirds innings. He looked comfortable on the mound, though, and with that comfort came impressive results. Lee limited the Mets to two hits and two runs, both of which were earned, but one – and possibly both – of which should have been ruled as unearned, due to an error in centerfield by Dee Strange-Gordon.

Lee still isn’t a finished product. Only one of his 67 pitches wasn’t either a fastball or a curveball, and nearly half (32) of them were balls. For both of those reasons, there’s a belief that Lee will eventually be shifted to the bullpen. In fact, that’s reportedly his temporary role in Washington – due in part to his next scheduled day (Monday) being an off day for the Nationals.

Whether Lee stays in the majors beyond Monday is to be determined. Jackson Tetreault pitched another masterful game in his most recent start for Triple-A Rochester, and Stephen Strasburg also made a rehab start (his third overall, after throwing twice for Low-A Fredericksburg) for Rochester on Friday. Lee’s case may have been helped by Josh Rogers – the only other left-hander in the big league bullpen – landing on the Injured List, though.

The Shortstop Just Got Bigger

Alcides Escobar made an outstanding play, diving to his right in Tuesday night’s game. He left the game hobbled, but swore he wouldn’t need to be placed on the IL. He was wrong, and that created an opening for Triple-A standout Luis Garcia.

The 6-foot-2, 22-year-old who’s listed at 212 pounds has been the everyday shortstop since earning his promotion. He was among the best hitters in the International League, but that hasn’t translated to the majors just yet. He’s only recorded two hits in his first 11 at bats. He’ll likely figure things out at the plate before too long, though.

The bigger questions surround the other aspect of his game. The ball has been hit to him 12 times, and he’s committed two errors in those chances – with a couple more plays that he probably also should’ve made. His ability as a fielder is mostly fine, but his arm seems very inconsistent – possibly due to a lack of arm strength – which is likely throwing off his mechanics. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez deserves credit for picking up Garcia and offering him some real-time coaching. However, the Nationals will probably be better served once Hernandez is gone, as it will open up the keystone position for Garcia.

Still, it’s nice to learn on the fly whether Garcia can play at a premium position defensively. As long as he can handle the adversity, Garcia won’t be negatively impacted in any way by logging some innings at shortstop for the next couple of months.

Also, here’s a quick honorable mention for right-handed reliever Jordan Weems and infielder Lucius Fox: Weems is replacing Austin Voth, who was designated for assignment, and Fox is sliding in for Strange-Gordon while he’s on the paternity list – shoutout to “DSG” for naming his child “Dash Gordon”.

Some Not-So-Minor Moves

Maybe it’s because there’s been some roster attrition amongst the major league pitching staff; maybe it was just time for these players to move up. Either way, a fairly lengthy list of minor leaguers has earned promotions this week, roughly in order of prospect status:

Double-A to Triple-A

High-A to Double-A

Low-A to High-A

RHP Cole Henry

RHP Cole Irvin

RHP Rodney Theophile

LHP Matt Cronin

RHP Zach Brzykcy

LHP Jose Ferrer

RHP Matt Brill

LHP Ike Schlabach


The biggest fish here are Henry (Washington’s No. 3 prospect, per MLB Pipeline) and Cronin (No. 12). However, numerous of the others who earned promotions could be quick risers up the ranks. Irvin was a recent addition to the MLB Pipelinetop 30, and Theophile (1.29 ERA in nine starts) could easily be in the top 20 when prospects are re-ranked near the Trade Deadline.

Three of those four players – aside from Cronin – are starting pitchers. The rest are relievers, and their production has been equally stellar to the “Big Four” above them. The Nationals spent a Rule 5 Draft pick on Brill, who lasted with the Nationals deep into Spring Training. Brzykcy (a former Hokie) is averaging nearly two strikeouts per inning, which leads the entire organization. Amazingly, Ferrer (3.00) is the only one of these eight pitchers whose ERA starts with a number greater than 1. Additionally, Henry’s is below 1.00, and Cronin has yet to surrender a run through 18 and one-third innings.

Whereas there arguably isn’t enough of a meritocracy in Washington (did I just make a political pun?), minor leaguers who deserve promotions are getting promoted. Well, except for one notable omission.

Fred Nats centerfielder Jeremy De La Rosa is an owner of the coveted .300/.400/.500 slash line at the plate. He’s successfully stolen 17 bases in 21 attempts through 42 games. He’s doing all of that while playing a very strong centerfield every day. And he just won May’s Carolina League Player of the Month.

It’s just a matter of time before Washington’s No. 13 – and certain to be bumped into the top 10 – prospect is sent up Interstate-95 to Wilmington, but it’s moderately surprising that it hasn’t happened yet.

Expect Much More Movement

Here are some more top prospects who seemed destined for promotions very soon:

  • No. 11: OF Yasel Antuna (High-A)
  • No. 15: LHP Mitchell Parker (High-A)
  • No. 20: 3B Sammy Infante (Low-A)
  • No. 23: LHP Dustin Saenz (Low-A)

This also doesn’t include outfielder Cristhian Vaquero (No. 5) or shortstop Armando Cruz (No. 8), whose seasons at the Rookie level will begin next week.

In a season that will – and should – be all about player development, watching top performers get rewarded and eventually added to the major league roster is as amusing as anything else going on for the Nationals. Best of all, you won’t get your heart broken five times per week.

Go grab your MiLB.TV subscription before the season slips away! You’ll start to get familiar with the faces you’ll see in Washington as this season – and the next few – moves along.


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Friday, 09 December 2022

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