The Nationals signed Gabriel Alfaro, a 30-year-old Venezuelan reliever from the Mexican League who last played affiliated baseball in 2006, to a minor league contract with an invite to big league spring training.
Alfaro pitched for Oaxaca of the Mexican League for the past two seasons. In 2013, struck out 84 batters in 63 innings. He landed on the Nationals’ radar after longtime scout Ron Rizzi watched him pitch this fall in the Venezuelan winter league, where Alfaro has struck out 10 batters in 12 1/3 innings for Magallanes.
Alfaro comes to the Nationals as a baseball vagabond. He last played under the umbrella of major league baseball in 2006, when he appeared in six games at Toronto’s rookie ball affiliate. He next surfaced in 2010, pitching for Camden of the independent Atlantic League. He didn’t pitch at a recognized minor league in 2011, and then joined Oaxaca in 2012.
The dearth of available information on Alfaro forced the Nationals to lean on the recommendation of Rizzi, who joined the organization two years ago, after he signed several players out of Latin America for the Dodgers. Watching Alfaro in Venezuela, Rizzi saw a burly right-hander who mixed a 97-mph fastball with a quality slider. He believed Alfaro could one day help the Nationals’ bullpen. In signing Alfaro to a minor league deal with a big league invite, the Nats took a minimal risk that he will.
The Nationals also announced the signing of right-hander Chris Young to a minor league deal. Young will earn a $1.5 million salary if he makes the Nationals’ active roster and can up to nearly $6 million based on innings pitched and games started, according to a person familiar with the contract. Young can opt out of his contract if he is not on the active roster at the end of spring training.
The Nationals signed Young to a similar contract last season, but his season was torpedoed in early summer when, after making seven starts for Class AAA Syracuse, he experienced unusual pain his shoulder and neck area.
Young, 34, underwent surgery to repair thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve issue that puts pressure on a pitcher’s shoulder. The ailment has only recently been recognized. Pitchers Chris Carpenter and Shaun Marcum have also received the operation in recent seasons and experienced difficulty returning. Young, though, is said to feel better about his arm strength now than at any point in recent seasons.
Young made a handful of appearances late in the season at the lower rungs of the Nationals’ system, which helped convince the Nationals the nine-year veteran could serve as useful depth. As the Nationals’ staff is presently constituted, Young would compete with a handful of young arms for the fifth rotation spot. The Nationals, though, are expected to either trade for a more established starter or sign one in free agency.