Today, we continue along in the National League East division with the Nationals. The team has a real lack of quality prospects in the upper levels of the minors, so normally at-risk veterans have more job security than they really should. Their best prospect is already slated to be a starter, so there’s not much behind him.
At Risk: Eric Thames 테임즈
Replacement: No one
Eric Thames has performed admirably offensively since returning from the KBO back in 2017. He strikes out a lot, but he has walked at double digit rates in each of his three seasons, while hitting fly balls at a mid-40% rate to take full advantage of his power. That said, with no defensive value and now age 33, small declines here and there could result in a full-on Chris Davis collapse.
Fortunately for Thames, the Nationals are completely lacking in upper-level first base prospects. Ryan Zimmerman continues to hang around, while their other utility guys could steal playing time if necessary. There doesn’t seem to be any prospect opportunities here.
At Risk: Starlin Castro
Replacement: No one
With just average defense at best and a wOBA exceeding .315 just once since 2015, it’s amazing to me that Starlin Castro has held onto a starting job all this time. He’s just completely meh, and at age 30 now, it’s not like we can say there should be more growth ahead of him. As an established veteran who just signed a two-year contract, he’s unlikely to outright lose his job, and his low strikeout rate means an extended slump probably won’t happen. But still, strictly based on performance, he should be at risk of losing his job.
Once again, like at first base above, the Nationals simply don’t have any real prospects knocking at the second base door. Top prospect Carter Kieboom could play there, but he’s slated to start at third base, so this would just be shuffling the deck chairs. As a result, if Castro does play himself out of a starting job, that will just mean more at-bats for Howie Kendrick and Asdrubal Cabrera, rather than a prospect.
At Risk: Carter Kieboom
Replacement: Jacob Wilson 윌슨
Carter Kieboom is the team’s top prospect and has displayed a nice array of skills in the minors to make one think he’s unlikely to fall flat on his face. However, you never know with prospects, so there’s a chance he stinks up the joint and loses his job, as the team has a number of veterans who could easily slide on in.
Who is Jacob Wilson? A 29-year-old with a nondescript name, but an eye-opening 2019 Triple-A breakout. He posted career highs across the board, including ISO (.299), HR/FB rate (21.1%), and walk rate (13.4%). He even managed to keep his strikeout rate below 20%, with a SwStk% just barely into double digits. Oddly, the Nationals allowed him to sign with a team in the KBO League (Korea) in mid-June in the middle of this breakout, but then resigned him in mid-February of this year. Given the number of years he has spent at Triple-A, it’s likely the 2019 small sample breakout was a fluke. But what if it isn’t and something just finally clicked at the tender age of 28?
Injuries have slowed down Joe Ross’ progress and his skills have never grown from mediocre. In 2019, he also shuffled between the rotation and bullpen, so his future role is up in the air. During Spring training, Ross was assuming to be battling Austin Voth for the final rotation spot, but Voth isn’t very exciting himself. His minor league SwStk% marks were mediocre at best, most of the time settling in at just single digits, so he’s not worth following.
Kyle McGowin is a long-time minor leaguer, having debuted in 2013 with the Angels, and so is old for a prospect at age 28 now. He earned a cup of coffee with the nationals the last two seasons, but spent the majority of that time in the bullpen. However, he spent all of his minor league career in the rotation, so it doesn’t seem like a guarantee his future is in relief while with the Nationals. He has posted some excellent SwStk% marks in the minors, fueling mid-to-high 20% strikeout rates, thanks to an elite slider. That pitch has generated a sizzling mid-20% SwStk% in the Majors so far. Interestingly, he’s a sinker/slider guy, which is risky against opposite-handed hitters. Oddly, the sinker doesn’t even generate ground balls, and also induces whiffs at a weak rate. It seems as if the pitch is actually pretty awful, so McGowin might do well trying to move off the sinker and transition to a four-seamer or something else.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.