Could Mark Reynolds Be Washington’s Scott Hatteberg?

The Washington Nationals have dealt with an incredible amount of injuries so far in 2018.  Certainly every team suffers with injuries and complaining will not help players heal faster, but as someone recently joked on Twitter, the Nationals could have a .500 club with their roster presently on the disabled list.  It is a testament to the performance of the team’s reserves that Washington’s record currently stands at 26-22 and only 3 games back of 1st place.

Fortunately for the Nationals, General Manager Mike Rizzo and the front office prioritized bolstering the teams’ depth this winter with several low-key signings.  Think about where the team would be without the contributions of Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, and recently, Mark Reynolds.  Reynolds has been a tremendous addition to the lineup in Ryan Zimmerman’s absence, hitting 4 home runs in his first 8 games.

Last season Reynolds batted .267/.352/.487 with 30 home runs and 97 RBI for the Colorado Rockies in 148 games.  No doubt his offensive performance was aided by playing at Coors Field, but Reynolds does one thing really well, namely hit home runs, as evidenced by his career 285 total.  Sure home runs are increasing rapidly league-wide like WWE stock, but somehow Reynolds was largely ignored this winter.

The fact that Mark Reynolds was still available weeks into the season points towards two things – First, we underwent a strange offseason in major league baseball and depending on your viewpoint, either saw some collusion occur within free agency or a league-wide reset of how team’s value players.  This is a discussion far above my paygrade.

The second is how the increased usage of relief pitchers has forced the need for more pitchers in the bullpen.  Many teams are carrying 8 or even 9 relievers on their active roster, at the expense of extra hitters on the bench like Reynolds.  Middle relievers like Tommy Hunter and Juan Nicasio received impressive multi-year contracts last winter, while productive hitters like Reynolds, Adam Lind and Jayson Werth found themselves seeking minor league offers after Opening Day.

Major league front offices are filled with smart people and expanded bullpens do make sense, as relief pitchers traditionally post better numbers than starting pitchers.  Allowing a manager the option to lift a starting pitcher early for a fresh arm or using a left-handed relief ace to neutralize a difficult left-handed hitter is smart strategy.  In order to have a pitcher for these situations, the direct result is teams have prioritized defensive versatility over offensive prowess for the limited bench spots available on the roster.

I am not prepared to say this roster paradigm occurring throughout baseball is a mistake.  However, when productive hitters like Reynolds cannot find roles, it feels like teams are rapidly approaching the point of diminishing returns using these expanded bullpens.  Perhaps organizations’ like the Nationals who prioritize acquiring these capable hitters at discounted salaries could be at the forefront of a new version of Moneyball.  Could Mark Reynolds be the next Scott Hatteberg?

*Originally Published at MASNSports.com on 5/25/18*

Prospect Spotlight – Tomas Alastre

Tomas Alastre           RHP                  Hagerstown Suns         Date Evaluated: 5/20/18

DOB: 6/11/98     Height: 6-4      Weight: 170lbs.     Throws: Right        Bats: Right

Fastball (40/50)     Curveball (45/50)         Changeup (40/50)        Command (40/50)

Washington signed Alastre as an international free agent in July 2014 for a reported $350,000 bonus.  Alastre is listed at 6-4 170lbs with long, thick legs and some projection remaining in his frame.  The almost 20-year-old throws from a low 3/4s arm slot and utilizes a rather simple one-step windup into a low-to-medium effort delivery.  Alastre uses a waist-high leg-lift but does not fully utilize his lower half, limiting his extension toward home plate.  His arm path is not particularly fluid or as free as one might anticipate from a former position player.  Alastre is still seeking consistency with his delivery – at times he will get mechanical and lose the feel for his release point.

Alastre has a plan to attack opposing hitters and makes a conscious effort to throw to all four quadrants of the strike zone.  In this outing his command and control were poor in the first inning, but much better thereafter.  He presently shows below-average command, with potential to reach average with further experience.  Finally, he fields his position fairly well and shows a knack for holding runners.

Alastre features a traditional 3-pitch arsenal of a fastball, curveball and changeup.  The fastball sits 89-91mph with good plane and natural sink.  Alastre struggled to locate the heater, especially inside to righties all afternoon. He was making an obvious attempt to command the fastball high-and-low and in-and-out to keep the hitters off-balance.  Presently the fastball is a “40”, but could get to a “50/55” with improved command and some additional velocity as he matures.

The 75-78mph curveball was probably his best offering on the day, as he could locate it for strikes or bury it away from righties.  He did slow his body on a few and others were loopy in shape, but it flashed average potential.  His changeup sat 83-87mph with some arm-side sinking movement at the lower velocities and he replicated his arm-speed fairly well.  There were more poor changeups than quality ones, but the good flashed future average potential.

I left this viewing intrigued but somewhat baffled by Tomas Alastre – Most pitchers at this age have big fastballs, poor command and the beginnings of off-speed pitches.  Alastre has good feel for his curveball and confidence in his changeup, yet his fastball lags behind the off-speed pitches.

The risk is high with Alastre due to the lack of high-end velocity or a monster out-pitch, but the reward could be a future back-end starting pitcher.  Alastre needs minor league seasoning, but his raw tools will make him an often asked about prospect in trades this summer.

THE NatsGM Show #127 – Jeffrey Paternostro

THE NatsGM Show #127 is now available and we proudly welcome for his debut appearance, the lead prospect writer for Baseball Prospectus, Jeffrey Paternostro!

On this episode Jeffrey and I thoroughly discuss the Washington Nationals’ farm system, starting with top prospects Juan Soto and Victor Robles.  Next Jeffrey shares his thoughts on Kelvin Gutierrez, Daniel Johnson, Luis Garcia & Yasel Antuna.  Finally he briefly talks the upcoming MLB Draft and a couple prospects he particularly likes.

Thanks to Jeffrey for making time to join the show, and to you for downloading!

NatsGM Prospect Spotlight – Juan Soto

Juan Soto                           OF                         Harrisburg Senators

DOB: 10/25/98   Height: 6-1   Weight: 185lbs   Bats: Left   Throws: Left

Future Grades:   Hit (70)   Power (60)   Arm (50)   Defense (50)   Speed (45)

Juan Soto signed as an international free agent with Washington in July 2015 for $1.5 million.  Soto is a 19-year-old left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder.  Listed at 6-1 185lbs, he has added muscle, especially in his upper-body, since last season – he has broad shoulders, good musculature and appears closer to 200lbs.  Soto possesses below-average to fringe-average speed, consistently posting 4.23-4.27 second times home to first.  He plays with an impressive self-confidence and the swagger of someone who knows he is good.

Offensively Soto has a natural ability to barrel the baseball and a preternatural feel for the strike zone.  Soto possesses lightning-quick hands and wrists, along with outstanding hand-eye coordination.  He generates excellent bat speed and whips the barrel through the zone.  Soto has an obvious plan at the plate to hunt fastballs, but is not afraid to work the count and hit with two strikes.  He uses the entire field and has started punishing pitches to left field this season.

Soto has impressive raw power, hitting home runs both in batting practice and game action to all fields.  In addition, he has noticeably improved against left-handed pitching and looks much more confident this season.  He needs additional experience at Double-A against quality breaking pitches, but Soto is easily the best hitter I have seen at this level since Bryce Harper.  I project Soto as a future “70” hit (1st 70 ever on a hit tool) and a “60” power hitter.

Defensively Soto lags behind his prodigious offensive skills, although he has made strides this season to improve in the field.  Soto possesses fringe-average speed and athleticism, along with an average arm, which allows him to play a solid right field.  He has improved his routes and reactions this season, giving him more range.  As he matures, I worry his foot speed will decrease more than his improving instincts can compensate for.  Soto should play a solid right field for a couple years, but he profiles as a fringe-average (“45”) defender in right field and likely a (“50”) in left.

Juan Soto is special.  He is particularly interesting due to his ability to hit for both average and power.  His bat speed, coupled with incredible barrel skills, combine to create a “different sound off his bat”.  The biggest knock is his lack of competition at Double-A and how he will react to better quality breaking balls in the future.  Furthermore, with Soto projecting as fringe-average to average defensively, the majority of his value will come from his bat, which limits his prospect floor.  Soto profiles as a .285-.300 hitter at the big league level, with 25-30 home runs annually.  I will be surprised if anything besides injury curtails Juan Soto into becoming a dynamic major league hitter.

* After writing this, Soto was unexpectedly promoted from Double-A Harrisburg to Washington.  I anticipate this to be a short-term promotion and he will return to Double-A for more seasoning this summer, with the caveat that he might hit so well he stays in Washington.  Essentially, I have stopped betting against what Juan Soto can do. *