Washington Nationals: Lack of pitching depth troubling

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 30: Erick Fedde
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 30: Erick Fedde /

The Washington Nationals are lacking pitching depth, which is a bit troubling. Here is how it could come back to bite them.

The Washington Nationals have historically prided themselves on pitching. Mike Rizzo believes that pitching wins games, which is evident by looking at their roster composition. They are led by a strong pitching staff, featuring Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark, which is arguably the best in the league.

However, their pitching depth is lackluster. For the first time in a while, the Nats did not have any pitching prospects in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list. While this in itself is not terrible news, it highlights the Nats’ lack of pitching depth.

After the top four starting pitchers, the Nats have a few pitchers that are at least close to major league ready. With the fifth spot in the rotation still up for grabs, one of these starters will have a big role to fill in 2018.

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As things currently stand, the candidates for the job are A.J. Cole, Edwin Jackson, Erick Fedde, and Tommy Milone. Cole, Jackson, and Milone each have plenty of major league experience, while Fedde only has a cup of coffee under his belt.

Of these four, Cole is likely the frontrunner for the job. However, none of them are great candidates.

Cole has struggled in multiple major league opportunities, but appeared to possibly turn a corner in 2018. He pitched to a 3.81 ERA in 11 appearances (eight starts), and finally began to tap into the potential that the Nats believe he possesses.

Jackson, on the other hand, is a seasoned veteran. Nats fans know him well from his two stints with the club, but he has struggled mightily at times. He most recently pitched for the Nats in 2017, when he pitched to a 5.07 ERA in 13 starts.

Fedde is the Nats’ top pitching prospect, but is not quite ready to become a full-time major leaguer yet. He debuted in 2017, but struggled in his first three big league starts. He certainly has a bright future ahead of him, but he could use a little more seasoning.

Finally, Milone could pitch in the majors if needed. The soon-to-be 31-year-old left-hander is a former Nats farmhand, but has not enjoyed much success at the major league level. He spent 2017 with the Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets, and pitched to a 7.63 ERA. He is a decent emergency option, but should not serve as anything more.

Since one of these three will likely be joining the rotation after Spring Training, the Nats are stuck with three less than ideal candidates to be brought up if needed. Considering the Nats’ injury history, especially that of Strasburg, they would prefer to have better depth.

The Nats will also need pitching prospects to replenish the rotation after their current starters depart. Gonzalez and Roark’s contracts both expire in the next two years, so they could potentially both need to be replaced.

With Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon possibly set to receive monster contract extensions, the Nats likely will not have the money to sign established starting pitchers. Because of this, they must rely on prospects to step up.

Seth Romero and Wil Crowe are a couple options to potentially play a big role in the future, but the Nats should have a few more options. Only eight of the Nats’ top 30 prospects are pitchers, which is cause for concern.

Next: Will Stephen Strasburg take the next step?

Although the Nats currently boast one of the best rotations in the league, that could change in the future. A few injuries and/or expiring contracts could be detrimental to a team that is built on pitching.