Washington Nationals’ General Manager Mike Rizzo told reporters this winter that he was comfortable trading highly-regarded prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez and 2016 draft pick Dane Dunning to the Chicago White Sox for Adam Eaton because of the starting depth in the organization.
“We still have our rotation intact from last year,” he explained. “We haven't touched that and we still feel that we have a good amount of Major League caliber pitching depth behind it.”
“We're fortunate enough, we trade from a position of depth,” Rizzo said. “We felt we have great depth in our starting pitching.”
There are some question marks in the starting rotation, of course, as Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes noted in an article on the rotation on Monday.
NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer is rehabbing a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger.
Stephen Strasburg is working his way back from a season-ending tear of the pronator tendon in his right arm, though the right-hander, his agent and Rizzo have stated he will be good to go for the start of Spring Training.
Joe Ross is coming off an injury-shortened 2016 campaign in which the right-hander missed significant time while dealing with shoulder inflammation.
Gio Gonzalez was up and down on the mound again in 2016, and as veteran Washington Post columnist asked in a chat with readers earlier this week, “do you ever want to see him start another playoff game against ANYBODY, even somebody he should match up with?”
Tanner Roark’s cool.
But how about the depth behind the expected major league rotation? Who do you consider the top major league-ready starters in the system? Our guesses?
A.J. Cole, Austin Voth and Erick Fedde?
Fedde, 23, is the Nationals’ 2014 1st Round pick, a right-hander who underwent Tommy John surgery shortly before the Draft that summer.
In his first full season back on the mound in 2016, Fedde put up a 2.85 ERA, a 3.22 FIP, 19 walks (1.87 BB/9) and 95 Ks (9.33 K/9) in 18 games (17 starts) and 91 2⁄3 innings pitched at High-A Potomac before he was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg where he posted a 3.99 ERA, a 3.02 FIP, 10 walks (3.07 BB/9) and 28 Ks (8.59 K/9) in 29 1⁄3 IP.
Ranked the No. 2 overall prospect in the Nationals’ system by MLB.com, Fedde (who has a projected arrival date of 2017 on MLB.com’s scouting report), was thought of as a potential top 10 draft pick by both Rizzo and Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Ops Kris Kline before the 2014 Draft.
Kline told reporters in June of ‘14 that the Nationals wouldn’t draft a player with injury issues unless they thought he had a chance to rise quickly.
"We're never going to take a hurt guy," Kline said, "whether it's a guy like Fedde, or somebody that's going to require surgery unless we feel that he can get to the big leagues quick."
Will 2017 be the year Fedde makes an impact in the majors?
Voth, 24, is a 2013 5th Round pick who pitched at Triple-A Syracuse in 2016, putting up a 3.15 ERA, a 3.53 FIP, 57 walks (3.27 BB/9) and 133 Ks (7.62 K/9) in 27 games (25 starts) and 157 innings.
The second-highest ranked starter in the organization (No. 6 overall) on MLB.com’s list of the Nationals’ top prospects, Voth is described as a strong and durable starter who, “... has a bright future as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater,” and is, “... on the cusp of emerging as a viable rotation candidate for the Nationals.”
Is Voth first on the list to get called up if there is a need in the rotation? Or is it A.J. Cole?
Cole, 25, could make sense as a long relief option in the bullpen, but he was used as a starter exclusively last season. He put a 4.26 ERA, a 3.96 FIP, 35 walks (2.53 BB/9) and 109 Ks (7.87 K/9) in 124 2⁄3 innings at Triple-A Syracuse, and made eight starts in the majors, with a 5.17 ERA, a 4.74 FIP, 14 walks (3.29 BB/9) and 39 Ks (9.16 K/9) in 38 1⁄3 innings.
He told reporters this winter that finishing strong last season helped him gain some confidence about what he can do at the major league level.
“It makes me feel a lot better about myself for the fact that I started figuring stuff out towards the end of the year,” Cole explained.
“I struggled in the beginning of the year, a little bit, and as the season went on I got stronger, so I have a baseline of what I need to work out before I get into the season and everything like that, so I have a strong mindset.”
Cole, a 2010 4th Round pick, has a “... deep arsenal and strike-throwing ability,” MLB’s scouts write, which, “gives him a solid floor as a back-end starter, but he's now behind several other young arms on the Nationals' depth chart.”
Will Cole find a home in the major league bullpen or remain in a starting role?
Are there any other pitchers on your radar you think will impact the Nationals’ rotation this season? Are you as comfortable with the starting depth as Rizzo seems to be?