TDG’S Triple Play: Washington Nationals!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
Luis García, Age: 21, Position: 2B/SS
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Luis Victoriano García (no, not the Houston pitcher or the Padres reliever) was signed back in July of 2016 at just 15-years-old. Given an opportunity with the major league club during the shortened 2020 season, García filled in at second base (while mostly playing shortstop in the minor leagues) while hitting as well as a 19-year-old who had little business being a big-league starter, with two home runs 34 runs + RBI, one steal in 159 plate appearances. His batting average of .276 though was quite good, as was his below league average 21% strikeout rate. It says a lot that the Nats were willing to give at-bats to a 19-year-old, as they had done previously with their upper echelon prospects in the past (not naming or comparing).
A tale of trips between Rochester and Washington
He made the big-league club in 2021, but there was no room for him to start, so on May 3rd the Nats sent him down to Triple-A Rochester (who are coached by former Twins first baseman Matt LeCroy, by the way). He returned to the big leagues on May 26th, only to be sent back to Triple-A June 16th. He yo-yoed between Washington and Rochester a few more times during the season, which was probably not the best for his development.
He was on the injured list at Triple-A (undisclosed) and later an oblique injury sent him to the IL when he joined the big-league club in October. In the majors in 2021 he finished with six home runs, no steals, 18 doubles, 51 Runs + RBI, and a disappointing .242/.275/.411 slash line in 2247 plate appearances. To his credit, his K-rate of 17.4% was much improved. At Triple-A he showed this in 2021, where, in only 159 plate appearances, he hit 13 home runs with a slash line of .303/.371/.599, while sporting a K-rate of 16.4% and walk rate of almost 10%. Much better than his disjointed big league 2021, no?
2022 and Beyond
García has power and a little speed along with an excellent hit tool based on his prospect grades. He has good size (6’2”, 220-pounds) to handle the rigor of a 162-game season. At his height, I have him as a 25-home run, 10-steal, .280 hitter which will play in most leagues at the keystone. Playing time remains the issue with García. The Nationals signed 31-year-old Cesar Hernandez to play second base (in order to trade him, hopefully) and still have the 35-year-old Alcides Escobar at shortstop. García is the backup to both, but should get more at-bats with the National League DH coming than he would have beforehand. Defensively García needs work, specifically his footwork, and with the Nationals signing DH Nelson Cruz, it will not be until after the Nats inevitably trade Cruz that at-bats open up at DH. For annual leagues it is a tough sell to take a chance on García, but in Dynasty leagues this season may be the last one he can be had for a song. Remember, he will only be 22 when the 2023 season starts.
Kyle Finnegan, Age: 30, Position: Closer
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
The 6’2” 200 pound right-handed closer for the Nats was originally drafted by the A’s in the sixth round of the 2013 draft out of Texas State University, though never made the majors with the team. Granted his free agency in 2019, he signed with the Nats to join the bullpen for the shortened 2020 season, and pitched well, earning a job with the team in 2021.
While maintaining a strikeout rate over ten during his minor league career, his walk rate was north of three, and that is why the A’s never saw fit to call him up to the big-league club. During his 80.2 innings pitched for the Nationals between 2020-2021, the same occurred, with a 9.43 K/9 and a 4.67 BB/9. That walk rate is simply too high to be put in high leverage situations often, though in 2021 the Nationals were forced to, as they traded their top two closing options.
How Finnegan gets it done
Finnegan throws three pitches; a sinker at 96-mph that is his main pitch, throwing it 70% of the time (though his manager says he throws a 2-seamer and 4-seamer, baseball savant lists his fastball as a sinker); a slider used to put away right-handed hitters and a split finger used primarily against lefties. The slider is his most effective pitch, where hitters only had a .222 batting average and .259 slugging against it in 2021. The talent is there; take 90 seconds and watch this immaculate inning against the Braves last May, where he K’s Austin Riley, Dansby Swanson and William Contreras on nine pitches.
How are we looking for 2022, Mister Finnegan?
A hamstring injury put him on the shelf between June 20th and July 7th last season, but before and after he was effective. However, September and October were not kind to Finnegan, as he gave up 10 earned runs with ten walks to only 17 strikeouts in 14 innings pitched. Ending the season on a low does hurt his 2022 standing as the closer, but, for now, Finnegan has the closers job and while Tanner Rainey is the best reliever in the bullpen, the best reliever is not always employed as the closer.
The risk of adding Finnegan is low as he is currently the 400th player drafted on average. For 2022, the best part about Finnegan is he has the opportunity to pick up where he left off last season and rack up Saves on a bottom feeding team.
Cade Cavalli, Age: 23, Position: SP, Level: Triple-A
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
Cade Cavalli was a highly regarded two-way prep player when he was drafted in 2017 by Atlanta, but a back injury deflated his value, and he chose to attend college at the University of Oklahoma instead. He played mostly in the field his freshman year, pitching just 17.1 innings. He underwhelmed in his sophomore year while dealing with a stress reaction in his arm, failing to turn his big velocity into strikeouts. In his limited 2020 junior season, though, he punched out 37 batters in just 23.2 innings, and catapulted himself into the first round of the draft. Perfect Game ranked him as their number eight prospect entering the draft, but he slipped to the Nationals at pick 22, who didn’t hesitate to pounce on the big, athletic, northpaw (northpaw is a thing, I swear).
Get the First-Cade Kit!
The injury history of Cade is well documented, and was a significant reason why he slipped a bit in the draft. A back and an arm injury are serious concerns for a power pitcher, no doubt, but it seems his risk is being overblown compared to any other pitcher. Of course, you would prefer to see a prospect with a clean bill of health, but in his first professional season, Cavalli threw 123.1 innings across three levels on his way to leading all of the minors in strikeouts, with 175. The best indicator of future injury is past injury… but it’s still a terrible predictor. It’s entirely possible that Cavalli will have an average injury profile moving forward, especially considering he played through his two biggest afflictions and didn’t miss any time to injury this past season.
Cavalli of the Wild
The other knock on Cade is that he has subpar control. Some outlets report that he has a violent delivery, but every video I’ve seen shows a very repeatable and athletic delivery necessary for a pitcher with his physicality. I don’t have any concerns about his delivery lending itself to being a higher injury risk. The biggest effect that those injuries have had, though, is in his ability to develop his repertoire in game. He has stressed in multiple interviews that he relies heavily on getting a feel for his pitches in competitive settings, and prior to this year, he has had limited competitive innings.
He is noted for his huge fastball that sits upper 90s and touches 101, but his most impressive pitch is the one he has thrown for the shortest amount of time: his changeup. Cavalli never threw this pitch before college, and only had about 100 innings there to try and work on it. After being drafted, Eric Longenhagen of Fangraphs rated the pitch as a future 50 grade, and now has it at a future 70 grade after just one season of working on it in professional games. That pitch helped him to limit batters to just five home runs all year, two of which came in his second-to-last start. Control is typically the last thing to develop, and I’ll bet on an athletic pitcher to figure that out. Even if he does not become elite at finding the zone, he has such a huge buffer because of that home run suppression that he should find success no matter what.
I expect Cavalli to hit the ground running in 2022. He should be back at Triple-A and now that he’s settled into his pitch mix, he just needs to hone his control. If he does that, he should start putting up absurd, video game-like, numbers. A 30%+ strikeout rate is an easy target for him, and if he pairs that with a sub-8% walk rate and elite home run suppression, we could see him in Washington by the All-Star break, even making a run at Rookie of the Year. He could be on the verge of making a leap similar to his divisional foe, Sandy Alcantara, who transitioned from simply having top-end velocity to an elite all-around profile. A power fastball, elite changeup, above average slider, and a show-me spike curveball makes for a lethal combination. It’s almost too easy to dream on the quick ascension of an arm like this, but I could see Cavalli flirting with becoming a top 20 starting pitcher in 2023.