It may not reach Stephen Strasburg in 2012 proportions, but how the Nationals monitor top prospect Lucas Giolito's workload this season could end up being one of 2016's biggest - or at least most interesting - storylines.
The 21-year-old who some have described as a rare talent, with prototypical size and stuff, is still technically on his way back from Tommy John surgery in the sense he has yet to reach a full workload as a professional.
Giolito is long removed from the procedure itself, which he had in 2012, but at his age and inexperience will have to be monitored to an extent. It's highly unlikely he will reach the 200-innings mark, for instance, after setting a career-high of 117 innings just a year ago.
Here is what Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said about Giolito back in December:
"We're going to obviously be a caretaker to his workload and his innings. We expect big things from Lucas Giolito not only in 2016, but down the road also."
Rizzo was asked again about Giolito before Friday's game against the Twins and he reiterated (twice) that the Nats plan to handle him just like his Tommy John veteran predecessors. Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann would be the likely models to follow.
“He is on the same protocol every other Tommy John recipient is on," Rizzo said. "He’ll be treated like we’ve treated every other Tommy John recipient.”
The second is what Rizzo replied when asked if the team would skip Giolito's starts, for example, to extend the right-hander's season. If he falls somewhere in between what he pitched last year (117 innings) and the 200-inning mark, his availability in late September or October, if the Nats are fortunate enough to make it that far, could come into question. If he makes his MLB debut this season, as many expect him to, that could create an interesting debate, as we've seen before most notably with Strasburg and Matt Harvey.
By saying the Nats will handle Giolito like they have "treated every other Tommy John recipient" suggests an innings limit the team will adhere to, but we don't know the specifics of what that number is or even a range it could fall in.
I broke down some numbers comparing Giolito to Strasburg and Zimmermann - who were both shut down midseason - to project a potential percentage increase in his innings this season, but that was simply an attempt to read the tea leaves. If the Nats have a specific number in mind, they aren't intent on revealing it.
Will this mean a shutdown for Giolito, or will we see him pitching in October as the Nats embark on a playoff run with their prized pitching prospect in the fold? We don't know the answer to that question, and if the Nats are out of contention in September it could become moot, but the whole situation could become interesting to analyze as this season plays on.