Player Previews: ML-Ready Pitching Depth

Despite adding four ML bullpen pieces in Trevor Gott, Shawn Kelley, Oliver Perez, and Yusmeiro Petit, there is still some instability in the Nats’ pitching staff. The following pitchers are Major League-ready, and many of them will be seen in Washington DC this summer (and not as tourists, either). None of these guys are top prospects (most of them aren’t even prospects at all), but all could develop into trade chips or bullpen pieces in 2016.

RHP A.J. Cole
R/R, 6’4”, 195 lbs., 24 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Drafted by Washington in 2010 (4th Round, 116th overall, $2,000,000 signing bonus)
Traded to Oakland on 12/13/11 with RHP Brad Peacock, C Derek Norris, and LHP Tom Milone for LHP Gio Gonzalez
Traded to Washington on 1/16/13 with RHP Blake Treinen and LHP Ian Krol for OF Michael Morse
Best Anagram Name: Cajole (or a J. Cole)       

Cole has fallen down many people’s prospect rankings over the last two years, partially due to performance and partially due to prospect fatigue. The shine is obviously not as strong as it was when he was an overslot HS draftee in 2010, but he's still ML-ready and has a live enough arm to make it as a number 4 starter or late inning bullpen guy. Cole apparently added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, hoping that the added strength brings his fastball velocity back into the mid-90s consistently, but he needs to concentrate on keeping his sinker down in the zone more than anything. The instability in the Nats’ bullpen could work in Cole’s favor, as that is his best way to see ML service time in 2016 with the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Laffey and Lucas Giolito available to join the rotation if needed. And please never let me list Giolito in the same sentence as Arroyo or Laffey ever again.

LHP Sammy Solis
L/L, 6’5”, 230 lbs., 27 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Drafted by Washington in 2010 (2nd Round, 51st overall, $1,000,000 signing bonus)
Best Anagram Name: Mossy Mail

It finally happened – Sammy Solis stayed healthy enough to make his ML debut! After pitching only 257 innings in his first five professional seasons, Solis moved to the bullpen in 2015, tossing 26 and 2/3 innings between Harrisburg and Syracuse and another 21 and 1/3 for Washington in 2015. The results were pretty solid, as he put up a 2.79 K/BB rate across all levels (and a sparkly 4.25 K/BB rate in the big leagues). The emergence of Felipe Rivero and the addition of Oliver Perez point to a return to Syracuse for the big lefty, but I would not be surprised to see Solis join them in the bullpen at some point thanks to Solis and Rivero’s abilities to get both righties and lefties out.

RHP Abel De Los Santos
R/R, 6’2”, 180 lbs., 23 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Signed by Texas as an International Free Agent in 2010 (signing bonus unknown)
Traded to Washington on 12/12/14 with 2B Chris Bostick for LHP Ross Detwiler
Best Anagram Name: Ballooned Assets

2015 was a prove-it year for De Los Santos, and he held his own, putting up an 8.58 K/9 and 1.87 BB/9, the latter being his best mark since 2011. He has an above average fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a solid but inconsistent slider. De Los Santos has been known in the minors to leave the ball up too much, and as predictably gave up 9 HR in 66 innings split between AA, the AFL, and MLB. I wouldn’t say he did much to improve his prospect status in 2015, but he didn’t hurt it; if he can command his pitches a tad better, he can turn into a good bullpen arm.

LHP Nick Lee
L/L, 6’0”, 185 lbs., 25 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: AA
Drafted by Washington in 2011 (18th Round, 547th overall, signing bonus unknown)
Best Anagram Name: Neck Lei

I’m sure if you told Nick Lee this time last year that he’d be on the Nats’ 40-man roster and in big league Spring Training, he would have called you crazy, as he allowed 31 runs in 30 and 2/3 innings pitched in 2014. The Nats protected him from being taken in the Rule 5 draft after a rebound season, as he’s always had a solid arsenal of pitches (mid-90s fastball, a good change, and a decent curve). Lee has struggled with both command and control throughout his career, with 34 career wild pitches and 19 HBP in 261 innings and a 4.9 career BB/9, but that shiny 9.6 career K/9 is too pretty to give up on. Lee is the anti-Grace, and I’m excited to see if Mike Maddux can fix him up during Spring Training.

LHP Matt Grace
L/L, 6’3”, 205 lbs., 27 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Drafted by Washington in 2010 (8th Round, 236th overall, $125,000 signing bonus)
Best Anagram Name: Target Cam

Funny how things work out – late last March, Matt Grace was fourth on the Nats’ lefty reliever depth chart (behind Matt Thornton, Jerry Blevins, and Xavier Cedeno). A month later, Blevins and Cedeno were traded, and Grace was a big league pitcher for the first time. The results were mixed; Grace put up solid numbers overall (4.24 ERA, 7.41 K/9, 4.24 BB/9) that even hinted that he was a little unlucky (3.08 FIP, .426 BABIP, 68.6% LOB%), but he didn’t pass the eye test to me, as he allowed 26 hits and 8 walks in just 17 innings pitched. That being said, if he were used properly, he would have looked a lot better – it wasn’t a secret that Grace would struggle to get righties out at the big league level, and he faced as many of them as he did lefties. Righties teed off on Grace, hitting .429/.500/.571 (6 BB/5 K) in 42 plate appearances, whereas lefties were held to a .289/.333/.316 triple slash (2 BB/9 K) in their 42 plate appearances. Grace isn’t going to be a guy that I ever feel super confident about when he comes in, as he’s a soft tossing LOOGY, but there is a role for soft tossing LOOGYs in the modern bullpen, so we’ll surely see him again.

RHP Taylor Jordan
R/R, 6’5”, 200 lbs., 27 years old on Opening Day
Highest 2015 level reached: MLB
Drafted by Washington in 2009 (9th Round, 262nd overall, $99,500 signing bonus)
Best Anagram Name: Jay Drool Rant

Remember 2013, when Taylor Jordan surprised the Nats with 51 and 2/3 solid innings in the rotation? Don’t hold your breath that we’ll see that Taylor Jordan again. Jordan reached the big leagues for the third straight year, and (small sample size alert) got worse for the third straight year in the big leagues. He put up a shiny 2.95 ERA for Syracuse last year in 103 and 2/3 innings, had mediocre rate stats, with a 2.26 K/BB ratio (down from 4.80 K/BB in 2013 and 3.50 K/BB in 2014). If he can get fully healthy again, Jordan could develop into a solid late-blooming sinkerballing starter, but chances are, it won’t happen in the Nats organization.


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