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What do the Nationals listed in MLB's top 100 prospects have in common? None are pitchers

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What do the Nationals listed in MLB's top 100 prospects have in common? None are pitchers

The baseball quiet of January does deliver one annual treat: top-100 prospect lists.

The month is a green space for banter about what-if prospects. Spring training’s scent is starting to waft, the offseason free agent pursuits are (typically) winding down, real baseball is still a couple months away.

Which brings the lists and the outline of a situation for the Nationals.

Washington president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo has turned the franchise into an annual contender through hard-to-obtain balance. He’s able to handle today, tomorrow and three years from now. It doesn’t work that way everywhere.

However, the organization’s pitching pipeline has taken a hit in recent years, which can been seen in the year-over-year prospect rankings since 2014 and its current lack of depth.

Let’s start with this season: the predictable happened when MLB Pipeline ranked Victor Robles No. 4, Carter Kieboom No. 25 and Luis Garcia 75th. Kieboom and Garcia played in the Futures Game last season at Nationals Park. Robles is Robles, a lingering element near the top of these lists since 2016. His elbow injury stalled his rankings removal and progress last season. This should be his last season on any prospect list.

What is not part of the list is any pitcher in the Nationals’ organization. Rizzo contends the minor leagues are filled with pitching depth. That’s not true, whether assessing personnel through these lists or otherwise.

The Nationals landed four prospects in the top 100 in 2016. Three were pitchers: Lucas Giolito (3), Reynaldo Lopez (38) and Erick Fedde (75). That was the last time a Washington pitcher made the list (which we should not are not infallible).

Which, of course, is largely their own doing. The Nationals sent Giolito, Lopez and Dane Dunning -- the latter of which is in this year’s list at No. 80 -- to Chicago for Adam Eaton in a rare 3-for-1 trade. That cleared out most of their minor-league pitching depth.

Joe Ross and Fedde remained. A.J. Cole, once a visitor to the January century club, was also around. Otherwise, the Nationals were limited.

Cole did not pan out (nor did Giolito, the most-touted prospect of the group, following the trade). He’s gone. Fedde is yet to find solid ground in the major leagues. Ross had Tommy John surgery. He’s a leading candidate to be a fifth starter in the rotation this season, but also remains a question.

From there, the organization’s pitching runs even more thin. They gambled on left-handed Seth Romero in the first round of the 2017 draft, knowing his behavioral issues led to his dismissal from the University of Houston team. Romero continued his troubling pattern following the draft, appeared to have resolved those issues, then tore his UCL late last August. He is out for the year because of Tommy John surgery.

Wil Crowe, a second-round pick in 2017, was part of Nationals Winterfest this offseason. That hints the organization expects more to come from him. Crowe pitched well at the Single-A level last season before a 6.15 ERA emerged in 26 ⅓ innings at Double-A Harrisburg. He’s far from ready.

The top pitching prospect in the organization right now? That could well be 2018 first-round pick Mason Denaburg simply because he has a stain-free resume as a high school pitcher yet to throw in a professional game. Denaburg is yet another Scott Boras client working for the Nationals. He was one of 23 pitchers selected by Washington in the 40-round 2018 draft, a nod to the need for fresh depth.

What he’s not is a pitcher on a top-100 list in stagnant January, leaving the Nationals without one for the third straight year, and work to be done in order to restock.


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Jacob deGrom wins second straight Cy Young, Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin receive votes

Jacob deGrom wins second straight Cy Young, Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin receive votes

It’s Jacob deGrom again.

The New York Mets ace won the National League Cy Young Award on Wednesday night for the second-consecutive season. Los Angeles left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu finished second and the Nationals’ Max Scherzer placed third. Washington starter Stephen Strasburg also finished tied for fifth behind the St. Louis Cardinals' Jack Flaherty while fellow Nats starter Patrick Corbin received one fifth-place vote to put him in at 11th.

1. Jacob deGrom: 29 first-place votes, 1 second-place vote (207 points)

2. Hyun-Jin Ryu: 1 first-place vote, 10 second-place votes, 8 third-place votes, 7 fourth-place votes, 3 fifth-place votes  (88 points)

3. Max Scherzer: 8 second-place votes, 8 third-place votes, 6 fourth-place votes, 4 fifth-place votes (72 points)

4. Jack Flaherty: 5 second-place votes, 11 third-place votes, 6 fourth-place votes, 4 fifth-place votes (69 points)

5. Stephen Strasburg: 6 second-place votes, 1 third-place vote, 9 fourth-place votes, 8 fifth-place votes (53 points)

Wednesday marked the fourth consecutive top-three finish for Scherzer. Scherzer has finished in the top five every year since he signed a seven-year, $210 million deal to come to Washington in 2015. He won the award in 2016 and 2017. He finished second last season.

Scherzer’s back injuries in 2019 limited his chances to win. He went on the injured list twice, limiting him to 27 starts, the lowest in a full season during his 12-year career. Otherwise, his numbers provided a strong argument he should be right alongside deGrom when being considered for the award. He led the league in strikeouts per nine with a dominant 12.7. Scherzer also led the league in FIP -- fielding-independent pitching -- as well as strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Ryu’s candidacy hinged on his control. He put together the league’s best walk rate, ERA and ERA-plus. However, he, like Scherzer, was limited in total production. Ryu made 29 starts and threw 182 ⅔ innings. He started the All-Star Game -- selected by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts -- and went through a second-half fade when deGrom surged.

DeGrom checked all the boxes. His workload was high (32 starts, 202 innings pitched). He led the league in strikeouts. He tied for the lead in WHIP, was fourth in batting average against and first in OPS against at a mere .580. His 1.44 ERA in 92 innings after the All-Star break put him in position to claim the award again.

DeGrom joins Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Randy Johnson (four in a row), Greg Maddux (four in a row) and Sandy Koufax as back-to-back winners of the award since its inception in 1956.

Strasburg led the National League in innings pitched before become the Most Valuable Player in the Nationals’ World Series win. He is a free agent after opting out of the final four years and $100 million on his contract. He’s never finished higher than third in Cy Young Award voting, though 2019 was his second-best year by bWAR. 

Like deGrom, Flaherty used his work after the All-Star break to push into consideration. His 0.91 ERA in 99 innings and 15 starts made him the best National League pitcher from July on. His 4.64 ERA prior to the schedule break held back his overall numbers. Flaherty is just 24 years old and should be back for consideration in the future.

Corbin joined the Nationals last offseason on a six-year, $140 million deal after seven years with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He went 14-7 with a 3.25 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 202 innings for Washington this season.

The Nationals and Dodgers accounted for six of the 11 pitchers to receive Cy Young votes. Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler also garnered ballot selections, finishing eighth and ninth, respectively.

Matt Weyrich contributed to this report.


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Picking Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young was the only easy decision on my ballot

Picking Jacob deGrom for NL Cy Young was the only easy decision on my ballot

The only easy part is at the top. Jacob deGrom was the clear winner of the 2019 National League Cy Young Award. The rest was a tussle.

Good news about voting for this award: It’s more statistics-oriented than MVP (an individual’s definition of “value” can have a big influence there), and is not a nonsense award based on almost nothing, the way Manager of the Year is. 

However, those circumstances don’t make it easy to vote for -- this year in particular. On my ballot, the gap between second and fifth is minute; to the point I would be comfortable with a shuffle in almost any order. But, you have to pick and slot guys in, so here is the ballot:

  1. Jacob deGrom
  2. Max Scherzer
  3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
  4. Jack Flaherty
  5. Stephen Strasburg

Locally, the first thing that will pop is Strasburg’s position relative to Scherzer. So, to reiterate: The gap between second and fifth on my ballot is very slim. I’d prefer extrapolating this with decimal points for a better illustration than two versus five.

In Strasburg’s favor this year: his workload. He led the league in innings pitched and pitches thrown. He also finished second in Baseball-Reference’s measurement of WAR. Where he falls behind is in peripheral categories. Scherzer was better in FIP, WHIP, OBP-against, strikeouts per nine, strikeout-to-walk ratio, adjusted ERA-plus and fWAR (by a wide margin). When Scherzer pitched, he was the more effective pitcher. His strikeouts per nine (12.69) was the highest rate among qualifiers since Randy Johnson (13.41) in 2001. It’s the gap in innings that brings Strasburg into the conversation.

Overall, Scherzer’s position across multiple categories -- leading a handful when deGrom is extracted -- put him second, narrowly, on my ballot.

Ryu’s command was striking. His league-leading 1.18 walks per nine was the best since Bartolo Colon’s 1.11 in 2015. He, like Scherzer, trailed the others on my ballot in innings pitched (183). And, his ERA argument took a hit when FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is introduced to the conversation. He’s fourth there. Though, Ryu comes back in ERA-plus, where he is first. He’s eighth overall in bWAR and fifth in fWAR, undermining his case to a degree and put him behind Scherzer on my ballot.

Flaherty’s post-All-Star break run launched him onto ballots: 0.91 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, .142 batting average against, 124 strikeouts, 23 walks. Dominant. Beforehand? A 4.64 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. In the end, half his starts were so good, he’s competitive for a top-five spot.

Each time I went through, I found arguments for moving all four players to different positions, which, in the end, is mostly moot. The winner is deGrom. Again.