When they needed to make a transaction prior to Friday’s game to open up a spot on the active roster for Jon Lester, the Nationals elected to option right-hander Steven Fuentes. That wasn’t terribly surprising; the 23-year-old prospect hadn’t appeared in a game after getting called up 10 days earlier, and the organization wants to make sure he gets back into a typical, five-day routine as a starter who may have a bright future here.
The more notable aspect of the transaction was the location to which Fuentes was optioned: Triple-A Rochester. That’s because, after more than a year off, the minor leagues are officially coming back. Which means an end to the alternate training site.
Throughout the shortened 2020 season and the first month of the 2021 season, teams could only keep their minor league players at one designated, nearby location with easy access to the big league stadium. For the Nationals, that meant the still-new ballpark in Fredericksburg where their Single-A affiliate will play.
Come Tuesday, though, all four of the organization’s affiliates will be in action at last. Rochester takes over as Triple-A affiliate after two years in far-flung Fresno. Harrisburg remains the Double-A affiliate. Wilmington is the new high Single-A affiliate, and Fredericksburg is now low Single-A.
Rosters are set to be announced Monday, and the process by which players will be called up and sent down is still being finalized, but it should bear more resemblance to the process that was in place for decades pre-pandemic.
Players who are promoted will still be subject to intake testing, but the Nationals will proceed with that method rather than carry a taxi squad of five players when they’re on the road as they’ve done since last summer. The reason? They’d rather have those players appearing in actual minor league games than be confined to working out with the big leaguers pregame on the road but then not being allowed to participate in the games.
“I want these guys to play and get some true at-bats, face some different teams, and get competitive again,” manager Davey Martinez said during Friday’s Zoom session with reporters. “Now granted, they had these (simulated) games and everything (at the alternate camp in Fredericksburg), but ... it’s not the same. I want them to feel that intensity and really start playing games, get four solid at-bats a game, pitch to another team and really get into it and get fired up and get that adrenaline going. For me, it’s about getting these guys ready, so when they do come up here, we know they’ve had a bunch of at-bats, they’ve had a bunch of innings and they’re ready to go.”