What if the Washington Nationals could look into the future?
What if the unique conditions of the 2020 season offered a possible lens?
Maybe there’s a lot below the surface in a season where the Nats have played road games at home and home games on the road, had series get cancelled by positive COVID-19 tests, and watched two star pitchers leave games after one inning because of injury.
Seeing Stephen Strasburg, Sean Doolittle and Sam Freeman go to the injured list has already put this season on a disturbing note, especially when some of the team’s healthy pitchers, like Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez, have yet to be reliable.
It already seems like the 2020 season isn’t going to to play out the way the Nats envisioned it. So why not take an extended look at career minor leaguers and prized prospects — the ones General Manager Mike Rizzo vowed never to trade back when the team had never won a postseason series?
In 2016, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Victor Robles, Carter Kieboom and Luis Garcia were all prized prospects in the Nationals’ farm system.
Now Turner, Soto, and Robles are the nucleus of a team playing under unprecedented conditions, showing Garcia and Kieboom the ropes.
Garcia had never played above class Double-A before this week; he’s already driven in multiple runs and made an over-the-shoulder catch. Kieboom struggled in the majors last season but raked in Fresno, hitting .303/.409/.493 with 16 home runs in 100 games. Now he already owns the team record for assists in a game at third base.
Turner says Garcia and the others are comfortable together, and he’s now become a mentor to his fellow former prospects.
“It’s him and Juan and Carter, they just played baseball and they know where to go with the ball, what decisions to make.” he said Saturday. “You can see from Luis that he’s made a lot of good plays, and it’s just that natural instinct that he has, and sometimes you can’t teach that.”
If most of the bullpen was a weakness when the Nats won the World Series, why not use this bizarro season to see how some different arms will perform?
Dakota Bacus was a career minor leaguer behind more valued pitching prospects; he retired the first eight hitters he’s faced in a major league game before giving up a hit.
Kyle Finnegan had been in the minors since 2013 before making his debut this season. He still owns a 0.00 ERA and six strikeouts in 7 1⁄3 innings pitched.
“It is cool to be part of that small group to get through that little window of opportunity. It’s special,” Bacus said after pitching against the Orioles on Saturday. “The Nats have always taken care of me as a player, on and off the field. So again, they’re a family, and I think probably they were like, ‘Look we’ve got to give this kid a shot, somehow.’”
It’s true, they are keeping standings this season, so the Nats can’t afford to send out just anyone. But those standings show four games between the Nats and the first-place Miami Marlins, who have won only two games more than the Nats. No one in the division is distinguishing themselves. And the Nats’ young players are already rising to the occasion.
If the consensus is that what we’re seeing this season is major league-quality baseball, then it makes sense to see how previously untested players will handle major league streaks, slumps, bad calls, bad breaks, and bad games. That information might come in handy when they start playing an extended schedule with fans in the stands.