With the 2022 season nearly a month in, we’re going to hit a point in the not-too-distant future in which prospects start working their way up the organizational pecking order. On that note, let’s identify one Nationals prospect at each of the four affiliates who could soon be changing addresses.
Low-A Fredericksburg: RHP Rodney Theophile
It has been a stunning first month for Theophile, a 2018 international signee. Theophile, 22, made 22 starts last season for the FredNats, posting mundane to poor numbers across the board: 5.56 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 4.8 BB/9. It is important to note that after a 10-game GCL stint in 2018, Theophile missed the entire 2019 season due to injury and obviously 2020 was a wash-out due to COVID. So, you have to view 2021 through that lens.
But Theophile has been completely dominant as the anchor of the FredNats’ rotation early this year. In four starts, he has compiled a 0.86 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while upping his K/9 to 12.9 and decreasing his BB/9 to 2.1. Those are big jumps. He’s done it with a fastball that has sat around 93 on my viewings with a nasty hammer curve to put batters away. At 22, Theophile is not old for the level but probably should go up a level if he continues to dominate the Carolina League.
High-A Wilmington: RHP Jake Irvin
I pegged Irvin as my sleeper prospect to watch this year, and so far he is more than delivering. It has been a long road back for the 6-foot-6 Irvin, the Nats’ fourth-round pick out of Oklahoma in 2018. Irvin was drafted as a pitchability, back rotation-type pitcher and performed to that expectation with Low-A Hagerstown in 2019, posting a 3.79 ERA with pedestrian strikeout numbers and a walk rate that was a little too high. Since then, he’s been off the map due to COVID in 2020 and Tommy John surgery wiping out 2021 completely.
During Tommy John rehab, murmurs could be heard that Irvin’s stuff had ticked up, with a fastball reaching the high 90s instead of the low-90s heater, pre-surgery. After a two-year absence from pitching in professional games, Irvin was assigned to High-A Wilmington to start this season and has been dominant for the Blue Rocks. He has been kept on a strict innings limit thus far, tossing three innings his first three starts before throwing four in his most recent appearance. In four games, Irvin his pitched 13 innings, allowing only one run on eight hits with 13 punchouts and only two walks.
The Nats no doubt have a very strict and specific plan with Irvin given his background, but at 25 years old, it may soon be time to employ that plan in Harrisburg, Pa.
Double-A Harrisburg: LHP Matt Cronin
If we’re being honest, Harrisburg doesn’t have any obvious promotion candidates despite a strong team performance thus far. I’ll go with Cronin, the Nats’ fourth-round pick in 2019, here. He was expected to move fast when drafted three years ago and appeared to be on that track until injury slowed him down in 2021.
There’s no mystery with Cronin, as the former Arkansas closer has struck out the world in the Nats’ system with an elite 15.3 K/9 thanks to a high-spin fastball and plus slider. But walks have been an issue since his college days and they remain an issue today. That’s why despite throwing 6 2/3 innings with no earned runs allowed and 10 strikeouts, his WHIP is 1.20 due to four free passes. The Nats have spaced out his appearances so far this season, never appearing on anything less than two days’ rest. Perhaps they are budgeting some of these innings for later this summer in Washington. His stuff is still overpowering hitters at Double-A and the walks are what they are. Exposing him to better competition in Triple-A may force him to learn how to pitch more than just throw it by everyone.
Triple-A Rochester: INF Luis Garcia
There’s no mystery here, no reason to go too much into detail. Nats fans know the score. Garcia, who technically is not a prospect anymore, has struggled in his MLB stints thus far in his career, but has simply destroyed Triple-A pitching. On the flip side, Alcides Escobar and Lucius Fox have made the fans yearn for pitchers hitting again. Garcia is almost certainly not going to stick at shortstop in the big leagues, but in a world with no service-time manipulation, you’d have no choice but to make this move and live with the defensive shortcomings. However, the Nats burned service time on Garcia before they wanted to and they may simply be trying to get back what they lost given the record at the Major League level is irrelevant this season. So we may wait longer than is fair to Garcia and the fans in exchange for long-term benefits.