Pitching Depth Player Profiles

Depth is always an issue in the major leagues, as a 162 game season played over 183 days causes more than simple wear and tear on players. Over the last five seasons, the Nats have used at least 20 batters and 18 pitchers every year in the big leagues, averaging 21.8 batters, 21.2 pitchers, and 43 players total per season. For this reason, it’s important for us to look beyond projecting the 25-man roster (or even the 40-man roster) and look at AAAA-type players, MiLB free agent signings and Rule 5 draft picks. 

There are a lot of veteran players on this list, with many having opt-outs if they are not added to the big league roster by a certain date. For that reason, we’ll probably look back and think “wait, Burke Badenhop and Jhonatan Solano were in Nats’ camp this year?” I’ve included opt-out information to any players that I could find contract details.

RHP Bronson Arroyo
R/R, 6’3”, 185 lbs., 39 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: N/A (injured) 
Best Anagram Name: Sorry Boos Ran On
Signed to minor league contract worth $2 million if he makes the ML roster, with up to $6 million in incentives (if he reaches 32 starts). The Nationals are required to notify Bronson Arroyo five days before Spring Training ends if he will make the big league roster, and can opt out of his contract if not.

Bronson Arroyo’s shoulder is apparently falling off, so take these blurbs with a grain of salt and a dose of penicillin:

It’s easy to forget how consistent and effective Bronson Arroyo was from 2004-13; he made at least 29 starts each year, topping 200 innings all but two years, with a 4.10 ERA in over 2,000 innings of work. He has never been a strikeout guy (highest career K/9 rate is 7.3), but has carved out value in not handing out free bases (2.3 BB/9 from 2004-13) and showing up on the mound every fifth day without pooping his pants.  Personally, I’m not extremely confident that the 39 year old will regain his form, but he didn’t average 33 starts and 207 innings per season over a 10 year span by accident; a healthy Arroyo could actually be a useful starter in DC.

The expected narrative is that Arroyo edges out Tanner Roark for a rotation spot to start the season, sticks around way too long because Dusty Baker trusts him, and gets the Baker era in Washington off on the wrong foot with many fans. That being said, Mike Rizzo is the one who makes the final decision on whether or not Arroyo makes the Opening Day roster, and he might have just wanted some live music in the clubhouse this spring.


RHP Burke Badenhop
R/R, 6’5”, 210 lbs., 33 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: ML
Best Anagram Name: Honker Pub Bead
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

Badenhop is the Bronson Arroyo of relief pitchers – since 2009, he’s averaged just over 66 innings per year, tallying a 3.50 ERA with a good walk rate and a meh K rate. Between 2009-14, Badenhop used his sinker to tally a 52% GB%, but that rate fell to 46.7% in 2015. His sudden loss of ground ball stuff and consistent decline in K/BB ratio leads me to believe he’s running out of gas, but he could be a useful AAA piece to hang around in case the Nats need him.

RHP Matt Belisle
R/R, 6’4”, 225 lb., 35 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: ML
Best Anagram Name: Blames Title
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

You may notice a trend here, as Belisle has a solid recent track record of ML success, posting a 3.66 ERA in an average of 69 innings per season from 2010-15. What’s more impressive about those stats is that he was pitching in Coors Field for all but one of those seasons. Belisle’s ERA remained solid in 2015, but his BB and K rates were worse than his career norms, with elbow inflammation limiting him to 34 games and 33 and 2/3 innings pitched (his worst tallies since 2009). After missing all of July and August, Belisle was activated from the DL on September 12, but only appeared in four games (all in blowout situations) down the stretch for the Cardinals as they pushed for playoff positioning, and was left off of their NLDS roster. Badenhop and Belisle are likely competing against each other for one bullpen spot.

RHP Michael Brady
R/R, 6’0”, 195 lb., 29 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AA
Best Anagram Name: A Hybrid Camel

The patriarch of the Brady Bunch is also known as the “other guy” acquired alongside Trevor Gott in the offseason trade that sent Yunel Escobar to the Angels. The late-blooming righty was a glove-first infielder in college and did not start pitching until he was 23. In his six seasons as a pitcher, he has done quite well for himself, tallying a 3.08 ERA, an excellent 6.08 K/BB ratio, and 70 saves. While he is more than likely a case study against scouting the stat line, I’m surprised that he has never gotten shot at the big leagues in the age of teams carrying seven bullpen arms and burning through 20 pitchers per season. We likely won’t see Brady on the Opening Day roster, but I’d bet he makes his MLB debut in DC at some point this year.

LHP Sean Burnett
L/L, 6’1”, 180 lb., 33 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: N/A (injured)
Best Anagram Name: A Bunter Nest
Signed to minor league contract worth $1 million if he makes the ML roster, with up to $1.7 million in incentives. No opt-out information available.

Sean Burnett left the 2012 Nationals boasting a strong 2.38 ERA, 1.9 BB/9, and 9.1 K/9 in 56 and 2/3 innings. He inked a 2 year/$8 million contract with the Angels, which included a $4.5 million option (or $500k buyout) for 2015. The Angels ended up paying him $822,580 per inning pitched, as the tilted hat-wearing lefty tore his flexor tendon in 2013 and tore his UCL for the second time in 2014. Felipe Rivero’s ability to get both lefties and righties out could help Burnett find his way to the big leagues this year if the Nats want to keep two LOOGY-types, but only if he can leapfrog the likes of Sammy Solis (maybe), Matt Grace (likely), and Nick Lee (very likely).
 
RHP Erik Davis
R/R, 6’3”, 205 lb., 29 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AAA
Best Anagram Name: Avid Skier
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.


The Nationals waived Davis when the Daniel Murphy contract was announced in January and immediately brought him back on a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. After missing the 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery, Davis pitched 48 and 2/3 innings across three minor league levels for the Nats’ organization in 2015, posting a 3.88 ERA, 5.0 BB/9, and 8.7 K/9. Tommy John survivors generally take a little while to get their command and control in whack, so the Nats are likely giving Davis one final look in Spring Training and Syracuse to see if he’ll ever be both healthy and effective. 


RHP Paolo Espino
R/R, 5’10”, 190 lb., 29 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AAA
Best Anagram Name: Loin Papoose
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

Espino returns to the team he’s spent the last two seasons with, posting solid 3.63 ERA, 1.77 BB/9 and 7.71 K/9 over that span in Harrisburg and Syracuse. The Panamanian righty is surely considered to be an AAAA-type, but could be seen in DC this year if the Nats need emergency innings.

RHP Taylor Hill
R/R, 6’3”, 230 lb., 27 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Best Anagram Name: Holy Ill Rat
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

Like Davis, Hill was outrighted off of the Nats’ 40-man roster and brought back immediately on a minor league deal with a Spring Training invitation. The Nats know what they’re getting with Hill – he’s a guy they can call up on an emergency basis who can eat some innings, limit free baserunners, and throw some groundballs. While 21 career innings is a small sample size to make any major judgements on a player, Hill’s inability to strike ML hitters out is no surprise, and his 89 mph sinkers weren’t fooling anyone in Syracuse last year, either.

LHP Aaron Laffey
L/L, 6’0”, 200 lb., 30 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Best Anagram Name: Earn A Layoff
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that Aaron Laffey is only 30 years old still. He just seems like a guy who has been around forever, dishing out 87 mph meatballs to batters like he’s Oprah. Laffey gave Syracuse 147 solid innings in 2014, and will likely be there again in 2016 after a year in the Rockies’ organization. He doesn’t have particularly good walk or strikeout numbers (career MLB 1.23 K/BB rate, 1.91 MiLB K/BB rate) and doesn’t throw hard, so I really hope to not see him in DC until he’s throwing to Bryce Harper in the 2018 Home Run Derby.

RHP Rafael Martin
R/R, 6’3”, 220 lb., 31 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Best Anagram Name: A Rat Rifleman
On Nationals’ 40-man roster.

The Nationals finally called Martin up to the big leagues in 2015 after five and a half solid minor league seasons, and boy was he exciting; Martin struck out 25 of the 56 batters he faced (18.2 K/9), but also allowed 12 hits, 9 runs, 5 walks and 4 home runs. Obviously the strikeout and HR rates will drop, and we’ll likely see Martin slinging his spinning slider  in DC again this year (likely to mixed results again). 

RHP Nick Masset
R/R, 6’5”, 235 lb., 33 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Best Anagram Name: Kitten Scams
Signed to minor league contract. No financial or opt-out information available.

Dusty Baker trusted Masset 241 times from 2008-11, by far the best seasons of Masset’s career. In that timeframe, Masset posted a 3.07 ERA, 3.5 BB/9 and 8.5 K.9, compared to a 5.53 ERA, 4.54 BB/9 and 6.14 K/9 in his 146 appearances with other ML teams. Masset is probably the most recent case of Dusty Baker Overuse Syndrome, as he threw 9 and 2/3 innings in 2012 and none in 2013 thanks to shoulder injuries (after three straight seasons of 74+ appearances). He’ll probably get a longer look simply because he pitched for Dusty in the past (more like Nick Masochist amirite?), but he’s most likely going to be making his home in Syracuse this year.

RHP Wander Suero
R/R, 6’3”, 175 lb., 24 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AA
Best Anagram Name: So Underwear

Not all minor league players who get invitations to Spring Training are top prospects; Suero is in Viera to audition for a swing-man role in the near future, as he’s Rule 5 draft eligible next offseason. That’s not to say he’s a non-prospect, as he’s throws with some solid movement on the ball and has decent career numbers (3.71 ERA, 3.3 BB/9, 8.0 K/9). I’d guess we’ll see Hill in the types of roles that the Taylors (Hill and Jordan, not Michael) have filled over the last few years, serving as a spot starter and emergency long-man when the bullpen is thin.

© 2016 Citizens of Natstown