Exploring the Nationals' Depth
I've recently complained that the Nationals' lack oforganizational depth is a major reason for their mediocre start to the season. Key contributors C Wilson Ramos (twice), 3B Ryan Zimmerman, RF Jayson Werth and RHP Ryan Mattheus have all gone on the disabled list while LHP Ross Detwiler and LF Bryce Harper have narrowly avoided their own stints. None of that is even to mention 2B Danny Espinosa, who is playing with a torn rotator cuff.
Kurt Suzuki has filled in admirably for the injured Ramos, but out of that bunch, that's pretty much the only bright spot. Anthony Rendon and Chad Tracy struggled at 3B filling in for Zimmerman while Roger Bernadina and Tyler Moore have been downright awful in the corner OF spots. Super-sub Steve Lombardozzi has limped along to a -0.3 WAR, almost as bad as Espinosa's -0.4.
Finding quality depth for contenders can be quite a conundrum. For every aging veteran looking for a World Series ring there are plenty of younger guys that end up with lousy teams because they have a clearer path to playing time. I hate to think of disaster scenarios, but here is a look at the players who could become key replacements if injuries happen throughout the season. Please keep in mind - I am not considering any current injuries to the minor league guys unless they're season-long issues.
Yunesky Maya already got called up despite a meh 5.07 ERA in 49 and 2/3 innings at Syracuse. Sadly, there was only one starter in AAA doing much better (Danny Rosenbaum, with a 3.04 ERA in 47 and 1/3 innings). The rest of the rotation (Ross Ohlendorf, Chris Young and Ryan Perry) all sport ERA's north of 5.13, with Perry and Young hanging out in the 7's. Harrisburg isn't much different, with an improbably four starters (Caleb Clay, Paul Demny, Nate Karns and Blake Treinen) all with ERA's between 4.60-4.69. Brian Broderick brings up the rear at 5.21.
If a starting pitcher were to go down for an extended period of time, I would expect:
1 - Chris Young (most recent ML "success")
2 - Yunesky Maya (barf, but he already got the call and is on the 40-man)
3 - Danny Rosenbaum (pitching the best out of all of these guys)
Honorable Mention - Ryan Perry (already on 40-man) and Nate Karns (on 40-man, most talented out of this bunch)
Fernando Abad got called up due to his sparking start (1.06 ERA). If Zach Duke continues to struggle or if Abad continues his track record of being abad pitcher (har har har), don't be surprised to see Xavier Cedeno (1.17 ERA, 12 K in 7 and 2/3 IP) get called up next. Cedeno was claimed off waivers from the Astros about a month ago and is on the 40-man roster.
If a LOOGY gets hurt or cut, I would expect:
1 - Fernando Abad (already there)
2 - Xavier Cedeno (on 40-man, killing AAA so far)
3 - JC Romero (pitching well in AAA but 37 years old and not on 40-man)
HM - Bill Bray (0 runs allowed, 0.962 WHIP, 6 K/BB in 4 and 1/3 innings so far in AA), Ian Krol (0.79 ERA, 0.750 WHIP, 4.33 K/BB in 22 and 2/3 innings in AA), and Pat McCoy (3.09 ERA, 0.943 WHIP, 5.50 K/BB in 11 and 2/3 innings in AA, but 9.95 ERA, 2.211 WHIP and 1.50 K/BB in 6 and 1/3 innings in AAA).
At some point, Christian Garcia should return from injury and I would be surprised if he weren't given another chance at the bullpen (despite the organization wanting to stretch him out into a SP). Erik Davis is more than knocking on the door, with a 1.31 ERA and 4.00 K/BB ratio in 20 and 2/3 innings at AAA. Aaron Barrett is doing everything he can to move up the ladder, with a 2.95 ERA and 7 saves in 18 and 1/3 innings for Harrisburg. Ryan Tatusko has a nice 2.97 ERA in 30 and 1/3 innings this season despite a 1.549 WHIP and 1.55 K/BB, but sadly sticks out in a positive way compared to the rest of the Syracuse squad.
If another righty reliever punches a locker, I'd bet to see:
1 - Erik Davis (insert another Tyler Clippard comparison here)
1a - Christian Garcia (if he ever gets healthy)
1b - Cole Kimball (see 1a)
2 - Aaron Barrett (killing it in Harrisburg)
3 - Ryan Tatusko (killing it compared to the rest of the Syracuse staff)
HM - Neil Holland (3.44 ERA, 5.00 K/BB in 18 and 1/3 innings for Harrisburg) and Matt Swynenberg (2.28 ERA and 2.75 K/BB in 23 and 2/3 innings for Harrisburg)
Jhonatan Solano is currently backing up Kurt Suzuki in DC while Wilson Ramos recovers from injury, Carlos Maldonado is getting older and wasn't that good when he was young anyways. Sandy Leon is still the #1 catching prospect in the system.
If Kurt Suzuki cuts himself on a dolphin while surfing, here's what you'd probably see:
1 - Jhonatan Solano (assuming Ramos gets a hamstring transplant at some point)
2 - Carlos Maldonado (if it's a back-up situation needed, as he's really good at sitting on the bench)
3 - Sandy Leon (would likely only be brought up as a starter or if there was an epidemic of injuries)
HM - Brian Jeroloman, Kris Watts and Jeff Howell because they all appeared in Syracuse this year doing catchery things.
This is where we have to start getting deep into theory. Chris Marrero is the Nats' top minor league first baseman, but if Adam LaRoche went down due to injury, wouldn't we see some sort of Zimmerman-Rendon corner IF combination instead? Tyler Moore would theoretically still be around to help out then as well.
1 - Anthony Rendon (may play 3B and shift Zimmerman to 1B, or may just sit on the bench while Chad Tracy hoards plate appearances and continues to be a gingerbeard)
2 - Chris Marrero (he'll make a DC appearance at some point if the bench doesn't shape up; currently hitting .399/.345/.506 for the Chiefs)
3 - Micah Owings (current line of .269/.309/.438 for Syracuse isn't the worst thing I've seen today I guess)
HM - Mike Costanzo (hitting an equally meh .233/.331/.431 for Syracuse but has a history of being a decent AAAA guy) and Jimmy Van Ostrand (hitting .321/.353/.413 between AA and AAA and can play in the OF corners as well)
The fact that the Nationals have no choice but to stick with Espinosa and Lombardozzi, who have combined for a -0.7 WAR this season, is not exactly inspiring. Will Rhymes was brought aboard to provide depth, and while he has handled the strike zone well for Syracuse (18 BB/12 K), he's just not that good in general. Jeff Kobernus has cooled off since his hot start, but is still hitting .329/.368/.418 on the year with 20 stolen bases in his first 42 games. The Nats could give Rendon a shot to hack it at 2B under the "welp, can't do any worse" logic.
1 - Anthony Rendon (if a starter is needed)
1a - Jeff Kobernus (if a utility-type guy is needed)
2 - Will Rhymes (if a Tigers/Rays castoff is needed)
3 - Brian Bocock (if a glove-first guy with a dirty sounding name is needed)
HM - Melvin Dorta. Yes, that's kind of a joke (he played in 15 games for the Nats in 2006), but it's also kind of not a joke (he's currently on the 7-day DL in Harrisburg).
The Nats are a little unlucky for their top prospect to be blocked by one of their top players. Since Ryan Zimmerman has shown the tendency to get banged up a bit, it's not a horrible thing, though. Behind Rendon, there is tweener prospect Carlos Rivero, who isn't exactly helping his cause with a .231/.312/.281 triple slash for Syracuse. Will Rhymes can play 3B in a pinch, and I could see the Nats trying Zach Walters there if worse came to worst.
1 - Anthony Rendon (duh)
2 - Carlos Rivero (if he can find his bat)
3 - Will Rhymes (Will Rhyme 4 At-Bats)
HM - Zach Walters I guess.
This is where it gets a little ugly. Zach Walters is a talented guy, but that doesn't excuse his 6 BB/45 K ratio. Josh Johnson and Jose Lozada are 27 year olds struggling in AA. Jason Martinson could make a push, but he's still 24 in high-A ball. Rick Hague (.774 OPS in AA) is a dark horse, but is a poor fielder while Brian Bocock is a good fielder with ML experience that couldn't hit the ball if it were the size of a dark horse.
1 - Zach Walters (still the most talented option)
2 - Rick Hague (at least he's hitting)
3 - Brian Bocock (has an MLB glove, at least)
With Jayson Werth already out with an injury, the Nats had to delve into the AAA stash, grabbing Eury Perez for a little while before he was sent down for pitching reinforcements. Corey Brown is the only other outfielder on the 40-man roster, and he's struggled to a .237/.297/.458 triple slash to start the season. Kobernus has played in the outfield for 28 of his 42 games this year, so he would be a decent option. Micah Owings and Erik Komatsu are not looking great at the moment but towards the latter part of the season could be in the mix with rebound years.
1 - Eury Perez (I originally typed Eury Brown, which would be awesome. Imagine how good Eury would be if he knew how to take a walk!)
2 - Corey Brown (I'm not concerned about the mediocre start to the season. He'll start hitting soon).
3 - Jeff Kobernus (a case could be made for Kobernus over Perez since Kobernus has the ability to play infield as well)
HM - Owings (.748 OPS this year), Komatsu (.435 - not a typo), Chris Rahl (.677) and Jered Head (.834). Yeah, that's why Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina haven't been cast away from the ML Nats this year.
Throughout the system, the cupboard is sparsely filled but not quite bare. With only one real contributor on the horizon in Rendon and a few utility parts here and there, the Nats have to hope that they can keep healthy as the season continues.