The Nationals will look at available left-handed relievers in an attempt to tweak their bullpen, wanting to avoid the dearth of lefty relief that led to mismatched roles and vulnerability against left-handed hitters in 2013, especially early. They have touched base with Boone Logan, and J.P Howell, Javier Lopez and Manny Parra also names to watch.
While they will try to upgrade, General Manager Mike Rizzo also pointed out that the Nationals are in better position now than they were last winter. Ian Krol, Xavier Cedeno and Fernando Abad all contributed to varying degrees. As Rizzo ticked off those names, he added another, more compelling reason for his optimism.
“You got some lefties like [Sammy] Solis who could go to the bullpen if he had to, if you needed him to,” Rizzo said. “You’ve got more depth in the minor leagues, some more quality lefties.”
Promoting their top starting pitching prospects as relievers, to both improve their bullpen and provide them a first taste of the majors, would be a new plan for the Nationals. The Cardinals have used that model to perfection in recent seasons, using Joe Kelly, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and even Michael Wacha in relief roles. It seems Rosenthal will remain their closer, but the others either have or will become starters.
If the Nationals follow the Cardinals’ paradigm, it could mean Solis joining the majors in midseason as a lefty capable of bridging the starter to the back of the bullpen. Solis, the Nationals’ No. 6 overall prospect according to Baseball America, is currently ripping through the Arizona Fall League. The Nationals still view Solis as a starter long-term, but a trip to the majors as a reliever could hasten his development while giving the Nationals another strong relief option.
He impressed this year after he returned from Tommy John surgery, putting up a 3.43 ERA in 13 appearances at Class A Potomac. The Nationals drafted Solis, 25, out of the University of San Diego in the second round of the 2010 draft, signing him with a $2 million bonus. While he has yet to reach Class AA, the Nationals believe his stuff and his ability will allow him to shoot through the upper levels.
Rizzo mentioned only Solis by name, but Robbie Ray could be another lefty prospect who fits the profile of a young, temporary reliever. Ray, who turned 22 in October, is the Nationals’ No. 5 prospect on Baseball America’s list. In 2013, he punched up a 3.36 ERA over 142 innings across Potomac and Class AA Harrisburg.