If there’s one thing that marked the 2017 season in the Nationals minors, it’s how few, far between and slow promotions have been. To clarify, I’m talking about upward moves from the low-to-mid minors based on merit, not the needs-based shift from Triple-A to the majors.
Granted, nobody in their right mind wants to return to the days when an old-for-the-level, low Single-A guy is moved to Double-a in the space of 10 days (Bill Rhinehart, 2008) or a southpaw moved up from high Single-A to the majors in less than 20 starts (John Lannan, 2007). Those moves effectively ruined the former and arguably shortened the career of the latter.
But on the flip side, it’s been very tiresome to see a parade of minor league free agents who weren’t even pitching or playing in the independent leagues get signed to plug the gaps caused by injuries. In almost every case, the question of “Why was this guy available?” was answered very quickly (and for the fans of those teams, painfully).
Last week, Victor Robles and Daniel Johnson, who had long since earned a bump up to the next level, were finally promoted. Likewise for McKenzie Mills, though he was almost immediately traded to the Phillies, which in fairness may be better for him in the long run anyway.
Typically, these moves would have come after the Single-A teams’ all-star breaks in mid-to-late June. But injuries and ineffectiveness have forced the big club to make trades to bolster the bullpen (Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle for Blake Treinen and others) and the bench (Howie Kendrick and money matter for Mills).
While my theory has been that promotions have been delayed in part because of need to trade - it’s easier to sell getting a guy tearing it up at high Single-A versus one scuffling at Double-A (as Robles did early on) - I’m not hopeful that many more will be on the way.
This is in part because the injury bug that’s struck in D.C. has afflicted the minors at nearly every level - Rafael Bautista at Triple-A, Kelvin Gutierrez at high Single-A, Carter Kieboom and Juan Soto at low Single-A, just to name a few.
But it’s mostly because after the aforementioned trio, there aren’t any glaring examples to be found. And this late in the season, the only real value of moving someone is to qualify them to play in the Arizona Fall League, a topic we’ll explore in a future guest blog.
Luke Erickson blogs about the Nationals’ minor league affiliates for NationalsProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter: @nats_prospects. His thoughts on the Nationals’ farm system will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.