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What I Learned From Watching AA Harrisburg Senators

After being forced to cancel plans a couple times this season, I finally made a trip to Harrisburg, the home of the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate.

I attended Friday and Saturday’s games. Although I missed many top prospects – such as Cade Cavalli and Donovan Casey – and shortstop Yasel Antuna has not been promoted from Wilmington, there were still interesting things to see, including my good friend Eric (he’ll love how I phrased that sentence).

The Pitchers

The starting pitchers were right-hander Jackson Tetreault and lefty Tim Cate (MLB Pipeline’s No. 14 prospect in the organization), respectively.

That’s the area where the Senators are the strongest. Their starting rotation boasts three of the organization’s top 30 prospects, including Cate, Gerardo Carrillo (No. 7) and Joan Adon (No. 23). Aside from that trio, however, baseball scouts don’t view many other players very favorably.

The one exception might be left-handed reliever Matt Cronin, a fourth-round pick in 2019 who entered the weekend with a 1.86 ERA this season. MLB Pipeline rates him as Washington’s No. 13 prospect, grading his fastball and curveball as significantly better than average.

My Scouting Report

Tetreault is far less heralded than Cate and Cronin, but he acquitted himself well. He entered Friday night with an ERA below 4.00, and it stayed roughly where it was. He gave up three runs on six hits in six innings, although his command left a bit to be desired – he walked four batters while only striking out five. He didn’t give up much contact to be alarmed about, but he appeared to be a pitcher who likely doesn’t exceed Triple-A in his career. There are worse options to retain for organizational depth, though.

Cate has struggled for much of this season. He entered Saturday with an ERA approaching six, his strikeout rate per nine innings was very unimpressive, and his batting average against was nearly .300. This had seemed strange, because it was in stark contrast to his production at Low-A and High-A in 2019.

The hardest pitch Cate threw on Saturday was 91 miles per hour. Otherwise, his fastball hovered between 87-90 MPH all night, and it lacked any noticeable deception. However, his offspeed arsenal (particularly his curveball) returned much better results.

My hypothesis is that Cate relied upon his fastball less than normal this weekend, because he only allowed four runners to reach base in six innings and struck out nine hitters. He didn’t look imposing, but Bowie’s lineup had a hard time hitting with any degree of authority – and frequently couldn’t even make contact with the ball.

Cronin entered Saturday’s game in the ninth inning. He had a three-run lead to work with, but committed the cardinal sin for bullpen arms – he walked the first batter he faced. He proceeded to give up four more base runners, including a couple hard-hit balls, and wound up being tagged with the loss.

Cronin’s best pitch by far was his fastball. He sat in the low-90s with his heater, but Eric and I agreed that it was considerably tougher to catch up to than Cate’s, despite only being a couple MPHs faster. However, Cronin nibbled around the strike zone and hung too many of his lesser pitches near the heart of the strike zone.

In the case of both Cate and Cronin, the jump to Double-A has exposed the fact that they need to round out their arsenals. Cate needs to continue to rely on his offspeed stuff, but his fastball has been hit far too frequently for him to have success as he moves up the system. Cronin, on the other hand, has a solid fastball – although it’s less overpowering for Double-A hitters than it was at his previous stops – but needs something else to turn to occasionally, even if it’s only one more pitch.

Other Noteworthy Performances

Infielder Jake Alu has drawn praise from many fans, since he’s been one of few decent hitters in Washington’s minor league system this season. He had a rough couple of games, however, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts and a rather startling fielding error at third base.

Jordy Mercer continued a rehab assignment. He led off for Harrisburg in Saturday’s game and logged playing time at first base, third base, and second base. He went 0-for-3 with a walk, but he looked relatively comfortable in the batter’s box and in the field, which is what’s far more important.

The best hitters in the games I watched were KJ Harrison and Aldrem Corredor. Although only Harrison produced meaningful results (four extra-base hits in eight at bats, including two home runs), Corredor also hit the ball hard at a high rate. Neither player likely factors into Washington’s plans at the Major League level, but they’re plenty comfortable in Double-A.

One last data point that was rather evident is Jakson Reetz’s ability on defense, relative to Brady Lindsly’s. Reetz caught a base runner stealing, and has the clearly better arm of the duo. It won’t show up in the box score, but his throws to second base between innings after the pitcher’s warm-up tosses were on target far more consistently. Perhaps that’s solely a demerit towards Lindsly (although the fact that he caught one of Cate’s best performances this season shouldn’t go ignored), but it may also be a testament towards Reetz’s ability to be a serviceable Major League catcher in the near future – although the Nationals may not need him to be one, considering how much young talent they currently have at the position.

A Note To Discouraged Fans

If you’re frustrated with the Nationals’ inability to win many games, go catch a minor league ball game! It’s cheap entertainment, and it might help you gain a sense for what players may have a chance to contribute in Washington at some point. You’ll have to hurry, though, because their regular season ends next Sunday and none of the affiliates are likely to earn playoff bids.


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