For the first time since the franchise moved to the nation’s capital, the Washington Nationals are heading into September in the thick of a competitive postseason race. Every game and every managerial decision from here on out counts.
With rosters expanding on September 1st, Dave Martinez’s job becomes slightly more interesting. He’ll have a wealth of options to use situationally, but also to help keep his regulars and likely postseason bench players fresh the rest of the way.
This is the last time that September rosters will be at the full 40, as next year will be the first when MLB implements 28-man rosters for the final month. So, while we still can, let’s have a look at who could get the call in the coming days and weeks...
Already on the 40-man roster
Ryan Zimmerman and Sean Doolittle: Let’s bundle both of these guys together as they’re likely to be key players for the team in September and can be activated from the 10-day IL straight to the active roster without any corresponding moves.
Zimmerman completed his rehab assignment during the week and is with the team ready to be activated. Meanwhile, Doolittle had a 1-2-3 inning for the Potomac Nationals on Friday and looks primed for activation too. Nothing fancy here.
Raudy Read: Read had a brief one-game stint with the big league club earlier in the season, lining out in his only plate appearance. As rosters expand, most teams make it a priority to get a third catcher up to play things safe behind the plate and Read should be that.
The other catching option, Spencer Kieboom, is likely to stay with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators through their playoff run, making Read the obvious choice to be the team’s third catcher for a while, allowing them to pinch-hit Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki.
Andrew Stevenson: Though the current outfield corps should be back at full strength soon with Adam Eaton sitting out last night for precautionary reasons, Stevenson has done enough in his brief big league time this year to warrant a call when rosters expand.
In his 24 plate appearances for the Nationals, Stevenson is slashing .350/.458/.400, notably putting in impressive pinch-hit appearances. He is exactly the type of player teams can utilize at this time of year off the bench in a variety of ways.
Wilmer Difo: Of these names, Difo might be the least likely to get the call right away, depending on how comfortable the Nationals feel with Asdrúbal Cabrera as their backup shortstop.
However, it’s probably safest to give Difo the recall because of his defensive prowess and versatility, even if he didn’t exactly shine in that area of his game last time up. He could also be a pinch-running threat, though don’t expect too many pinch-hitting appearances.
In a week or two
One of the strange things about the roster expansion is that there are still some minor league seasons going at that time. Therefore, there are some players who could be kept down until the season ends for one reason or another.
Carter Kieboom: The younger Kieboom is clearly determined to right the wrongs of his first big league stint earlier this season, but it might be a few more days before he returns to the majors.
As we know with Mike Rizzo and his top prospects, he likes to make sure they’re getting as much regular playing time as possible. Without a regular spot on the big league roster, expect him to stay in Triple-A until the season is over before getting the call.
Jake Noll: A similar philosophy applies for Noll who made the Opening Day roster, but never really had the chance for regular at-bats when he was with the big league team.
Though not as highly regarded as Kieboom, the Nats aren’t exactly short of impact right-handed-hitting corner infielders, so it would make sense for him to continue to play regularly for as long as possible before coming up.
James Bourque: Maybe the Nationals recall Bourque when rosters expand because it would be straightforward to do so and help give the bullpen another arm in case of emergencies.
The downside is that, despite his impressive potential, Bourque hasn’t exactly lit things up in Triple-A Fresno, so even if he gets a few more appearances there to work on some things without the pressure and inconsistent usage in the majors, it would make sense.
Spencer Kieboom: The elder Kieboom brother was briefly up with the Nationals for the series with the Baltimore Orioles while Hunter Strickland went on the paternity list, before being optioned back down on August 29th.
That stint means the Nats can’t recall Kieboom, barring someone going on the IL, until September 7th. That won’t affect the team’s plans though, as Double-A Harrisburg are playing in the playoffs through at least September 6th, so they’ll likely leave Kieboom down until then,
Michael A. Taylor: Like Kieboom, Taylor is also with Double-A Harrisburg. Assuming all is well with Eaton, expect Taylor to stay down in Double-A to finish the season before being recalled.
Taylor has an underwhelming .244/.325/.454 slash line with the Senators, so would only be really used by the Nats as a late-game defensive replacement or pinch-running option given how stacked the bench is. That means they can afford to wait to call him up.
Adrían Sanchez: This season, Sanchez is probably the most loyal driver on the I-83 from Harrisburg to the DMV with several different call-ups and options, so he’ll be glad that this will be the last time he has to make the drive this season.
Sanchez could be called up as soon as rosters expand if they want him to be the backup defensive shortstop over Wilmer Difo, but with Harrisburg’s playoff run looming, the team is probably more likely to opt for Difo, allowing Sanchez to finish what he started in Double-A.
Austin Voth: After impressing with the Nationals earlier this year, Voth has now been on the Injured List since July 21st. The right-hander made a rehab start in the GCL and has now moved his rehab up to Double-A, making a pair of starts with Harrisburg.
He was roughed up last start, allowing six runs in 2.1 innings on 62 pitches. However, if Voth comes back up, it won’t be as a starter, so the pitch count isn’t important now, so it’s a toss-up whether they leave him to start in Double-A for a bit or call him up now as a reliever.
Kyle McGowin: Another of the team’s 40-man starters currently lurking in Harrisburg, McGowin is more likely to stay with the Senators through their playoff run than Voth.
He’s been pretty underwhelming when recalled this season, so don’t rule out him being removed from the 40-man roster in favor of some of the other candidates we look at further down this list, especially with some Rule 5 prospects this offseason with more potential.
Not on the 40-man roster
For players not currently on the 40-man roster, things could be a little trickier. After Matt Grace was designated for assignment yesterday, the Nats currently have just one open spot on the 40-man roster, so may need to reshuffle if they want to call up more than one.
Greg Holland: The repeat reclamation project from last season is the most likely to fill the current vacant spot on the 40-man roster left by Grace’s designation for assignment.
The Nats turned around Holland’s season last year and are hoping to do the same again. He’s off to a good start in Double-A, so with the expanded rosters, he’s definitely worth a look at the very least given his postseason track record. Expect to see him up soon.
Aaron Barrett: It’s looking more and more likely that Barrett, after his excellent performance in Double-A, completes his long rehab journey back to the big league this September. With Austen Williams likely to shift to the 60-day IL, that could clear the 40-man spot.
Barrett has posted a 2.45 ERA in 49 games in Harrisburg, saving 31 games in 34 opportunities as their closer. He’ll obviously get to see out the season with the Senators, but once the playoffs are over, he looks likely to get a well-deserved call-up this month.
For those who are counting, adding the above names would bring the Nationals to the 40-man limit. However, there are a couple of other players not currently on the 40-man roster who may have an outside chance of getting a call-up when rosters expand...
Jeremy Hellickson: The forgotten man from the Nationals’ rotation, Hellickson has been quietly rehabbing down in West Palm Beach with the Gulf Coast League Nationals, since August 7th, putting him on track to return about a week into September.
Given how Joe Ross and Erick Fedde have performed in the rotation, it’s probably more likely that the Nationals just eat the remainder of Hellickson’s salary this season rather than try to clear a spot for him on the 40-man roster just to be a long-man out of the bullpen.
Ben Braymer: This one might be a bit out of left field, but if the Nationals want an additional left-hander out of the bullpen, given that there are only two on the 40-man roster, they could decide to give Braymer his first major league call-up.
Eligible for the Rule 5 draft this winter, there’s a fair chance that Braymer could be added to the 40-man roster then anyway, so calling him up now wouldn’t be rushing him. The worry is that he didn’t do too well after a promotion to Fresno, posting a 7.55 ERA in 12 starts.
Sam Freeman: On a similar note, the former Atlanta Braves lefty specialist could be a call-up to fill that role out of the bullpen, as he did for many years against the Nationals.
Freeman was only signed to a minor league deal about a week ago but has yet to allow a run in four innings of work With Fresno. This call-up would be all about balance in the bullpen to give them a true lefty specialist in the bullpen, so we’ll see if they go that route...
Andrew Istler: We’ll finish off this list with a real long shot in Andrew Istler. Though he got off to a late start this season, only joining the P-Nats in late May, the right-hander has dominated High-A and Double-A to the tune of a 0.78 ERA while striking out 45 in 34.2 innings.
Istler will once again be Rule 5 eligible this offseason and relievers with potential are usually the prime candidates to be selected in the draft, so he is an outside candidate to be selected, so, if they planned to add him to the 40-man roster then, adding him now won’t make a difference.