The Washington Nationals announced Sunday that Stephen Strasburg would be placed on the 15-day disabled list after being scratched from his start in Milwaukee the day before. After the team’s 3-2 win, manager Dusty Baker announced that Joe Ross would start Monday, and a minor-league call-up would start Tuesday. But Dusty left out one key piece of information: Who is that going to be?
First, let’s rule out a few names. AJ Cole has had a challenging season and pitched Sunday, so it won’t be him. Taylor Jordan recently underwent his second Tommy John surgery and won’t be back until next season at the earliest. Those are the only two minor-league starters on the 40-man roster, so it seems the Nats will have to add someone new. Fortunately, they can clear a spot by placing Jordan on the 60-day disabled list.
Taylor Hill has been a call-up in the past, but he has an ERA of almost 5.00 at Syracuse this year. Reynaldo Lopez has inserted himself into the conversation with an incredible stretch at Double-A Harrisburg: He has 31 2/3 IP, 31 H, 5 ER, 5 BB, 55 K over his last five starts (excluding one shortened by rain). But he still has a lot to work on, and would be lower on the call-up list even if he hadn’t started Saturday. Though he won’t be getting the call to the majors, he was promoted to Syracuse Sunday night.
That leaves us with two logical candidates: überprospect Lucas Giolito and normal prospect Austin Voth. The timing works for both, as Giolito would start on one extra day’s rest Tuesday and Voth would start on regular rest.
If you’re reading this, odds are you’re familiar with Giolito. The big righty is rated as the top prospect in baseball by MLB.com and ESPN’s Keith Law. He was also the No. 3 prospect in baseball this offseason according to Baseball Prospectus and 2080 Baseball, behind two players who have since exhausted their prospect eligibility (Corey Seager and Byron Buxton). Suffice it to say, he’s very highly regarded.
The Nationals tabbed him 16th overall in the 2012 MLB Draft, where he was only available due to impending Tommy John surgery. But the Nats got him fixed up, and he has dominated ever since. His mid-to-high 90s fastball and 12-6 curveball both earn top-of-the-scale grades, and his changeup and command are considered pretty good too.
But is he ready? Giolito had a particularly difficult start to the season at Double A, walking 16 against just 25 strikeouts in his first seven starts. But he has taken off from there: He has 55 strikeouts and 14 walks over 40 2/3 innings in his last seven starts, with a 2.66 ERA in that span. Based on that and his pedigree, it would be hard to argue that he’s too unrefined to start in the majors.
But he has not totally moved past his early-season struggles, as indicated by his most recent outing: 4 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 BB, 3 K. So while Giolito represents upside, he may also be risky for a single start.
Voth, on the other hand, could not be more different from Giolito. He is largely unheralded, ranking as the ninth-best prospect in the Nationals’ system according to MLB.com, Baseball America, and Baseball Prospectus. He was the team’s fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft, and his stuff does not blow you away. MLB.com grades his low-90s fastball as above average, or a 55 on the 20-80 scale, and his curveball and changeup as average.
What makes Voth a successful pitcher is his command, which MLB.com rates as above average. That is borne out in his stats, as he has struck out 75 while walking just 19 in 81 1/3 innings at Syracuse this season. He has a 2.99 ERA as well, in keeping with his success at the other levels of the minor leagues.
He profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but he has been as steady as can be throughout his career. His debut will not come with much fanfare, but he can be expected to deliver a solid outing.
So which player best fits the Nats’ needs? This spot start will come against the Mets, making it much more important than most other games. This magnifies the importance of a good outing, but also the damage caused by a bad one. What’s most important is that the Nats stay in the game, and Voth gives them the best chance at that.
If the Nationals’ decision to start Ross Monday is any indication, Voth will get the call. And while that may a disappointment to some, it’s best for the team to delay their top prospect’s debut just a bit longer.Tags: Austin Voth, Lucas Giolito, Nationals, Nats, Washington Nationals