I recently got the perspective of high Single-A Fredericksburg manager Tripp Keister on a few of the pitchers he saw throw during October instructional league workouts and more recently in Nationals spring training.
The first was left-hander Tim Cate, who I spoke with at the start of 2019 spring training in West Palm Beach. Keister said Cate, 22, moved up to Woodbridge, Va., midway through the season last year. The skipper liked the pitching repertoire Cate brought to the table for the P-Nats.
“Left-handed pitcher, more of a pitch ability guy than a velocity guy,” Keister said. “But he can run it up there with his fastball at 89 mph, sinks it, cuts it, really good separation with his breaking ball. He has the ability to make pitches with all his pitches. Changeup is in his arsenal. He throws his changeup, throws his sinker, cuts it. He’s really getting a good feel for using both sides of the plate. Did not have a lot of hard contact against him last season.
“Really was fun to watch him pitch. He got better with each outing. He’s another guy that really needs to pitch this year. I was really looking forward to him coming off last year. He had a lot of momentum coming off of 2019 and I was looking forward to seeing where he was going.”
Keister also got to see left-hander Seth Romero in Florida. The 2020 campaign was going to be a big season for Romero, 24, who hadn’t pitched in a regular season game since 2018 at low Single-A Hagerstown.
“I was really looking forward to having him at some point, I guess, be with us,” Keister said. “You never really know. He was exciting because he threw in instructional league, and then had come into this spring and I don’t think there was any restrictions on him. He was ready. I saw him throw a couple of innings in instrasquad (and he) was really good. I hadn’t seen him pitch in a couple years, so it was good to see him healthy.
“He really looked like he was ready to go before we got shut down. I was excited for him because I know we talk about adversity (and) he has had some adversity. It would be great to see him be healthy and get ready to start a season healthy and see where he was going to.”
Another hurler to keep eyes on is big right-hander Jake Irvin, who made 25 starts with Hagerstown in 2019, going 8-8 with a 3.79 ERA. The 23-year-old Irvin is a 6-foot-6, 225-lb., starting pitcher out of the University of Oklahoma and was a 2018 fourth-round draft selection.
“Don’t forget about Jake Irvin, he’s another one,” Keister said. “Finished strong last year, had a great instructional league and was really coming into this season really looking forward to having a great season, too.
“He is pitching with more confidence. No question. When I saw him in instructional league, he was really good. His fastball velocity, he’s holding the velocity from what I remember. He was 94, 96 mph in instructional league.”
Keister said this is something he sees from pitchers making the jump from their first year in professional baseball to the second season. A lot of them did not pitch as much in college or high school. Usually the first season with the Nats staff, the team prefers to bring them along slowly. After 20 2/3 innings of work in 2018, Irvin worked to an impressive 25 starts and 128 1/3 innings in 2019.
“I always feel like pitchers that second spring training (take a step up),” Keister said. “That first spring training, pitchers, they don’t really know what to expect. They don’t know what kind of shape they need to be in because they’ve never really done this before. They always had their amateur (setup), just to be ready to go compete in their season, whether it be college or high school. Then you go to your first spring and you got six months of the season after your spring training. You never really know what to expect. And then when you come in for your second spring, it’s almost like ‘All right, I know what I’m doing now.’ You see a tremendous difference.
“Jake was ready to go. We were looking forward to a big year with him.”
We will have more reviews from Keister on arms he saw in Florida this offseason. Overall, the manager likes what he sees from the pitchers.
“It’s a good group. I don’t know what role they are in,” Keister said. “I’m just ready to see them pitch. That’s for other people to figure out. It’s our job to get them as good as we can. Get them better. Get them in games and try to keep coaching them.”