These are the little things, the plays unmade which weren’t errors but still pivot games. The kind of things players know they should have handled. Official scorers have nothing to do with these determinations. Major-league expectations have everything to do with them.
The Nationals didn’t make several of these plays in the night end of a doubleheader which they lost 5-3 against Miami on Saturday. Balls here and there prolonged an inning or resulted in a safe gain of 90 feet. The game will go into scorebooks as errorless. But it was far from mistake-free, which is less than beneficial when a 25-year-old is making his debut.
That was the case for Nationals prospect Wil Crowe on Saturday night. A ball in the first landed between three fielders. A foul pop-up on the left side was not caught with Matt Joyce in a 3-2 count and two out in the third. Joyce walked. Corey Dickerson, up next, hit a two-run homer.
“It’s just baseball. It’s the way it happens,” Crowe said. “Sometimes the ball falls in your favor and sometimes it doesn’t. Just got to keep on keeping on and moving forward and go after the guy with the next pitch. Once it’s done, it’s out of your control.” It’s a gracious attitude considering Crowe was making his major-league debut. He was a second-round pick out of South Carolina in 2017. Most of the prospect-ranking publications don’t think the Nationals’ farm system is in a good place (the assessment is skewed in part because of the early ascension of Juan Soto and Victor Robles). Mike Rizzo is adamant it is. How players like Crowe end up fairing will determine who is right.
The Nationals have not heavily hit on a prospect since Anthony Rendon was drafted sixth overall in 2011. Here is the list of names drafted in the first round since then: Alex Meyer, Brian Goodwin, Lucas Giolito, Erick Fedde, Carter Kieboom, Duane Dunning, Seth Romero, Mason Denaburg, Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavali.
Meyer, Goodwin, Giolito and Dunning are no longer with the organization. Fedde, Kieboom and Romero are on the current 28-man active roster. One caveat here is the speed with which prospects typically ascend in baseball. It’s a yearslong process, so Denaburg, Rutledge and Cavali can be extracted from this assessment. They are unknowns.
MLB Pipeline ranked the Nationals’ farm system 29th out of 30 teams before the season began. Kieboom and Luis García were labeled the organization’s top two prospects. Both are on the field now with regularity.
Starting pitching is where the organization has struggled to draft well the last decade. Which is the reason it spends first-round pick after first-round pick on starting pitchers. Not only does Rizzo view the position as the primary path to success -- a focus proven out to be true during the title run of 2019 -- but he also knows the fickle nature of it. There can’t be too many starting pitchers in the system. Injuries, flops and poorly located fastballs can swiftly derail what was a pitching prospect.
Which turns the internal future over to Crowe and friends. Crowe’s first-night line of 3 ⅔ innings, six hits, four earned runs, two walks and two strikeouts has little shine. It could have been better if his already established teammates helped more. But, he also needs to be better, as does the crop of pitchers working now and waiting to arrive at Nationals Park in the future. Or else the prognosticators will be saying, “I told you so.”