Trevor Gott is the youngest of many offseason additions to the Washington Nationals‘ bullpen, a 23-year-old with a slight frame and a powerful arm. His unofficial orientation to his new team came with the kind of chaos that has cursed the Nationals repeatedly this offseason: The Angels traded the rookie to the Nationals for Yunel Escobar on a Thursday, he flew to D.C. for the first time in his life on Friday, then got food poisoning that leveled him for much of Saturday, the first day of Nationals Winterfest. He didn’t have much experience to pull from when asked about his new team Sunday.
“I haven’t done much, I’ve just been in this big building,” Gott said. “But I love it though, the fans seem awesome, met some this morning.”
When he does settle in, Gott will see the remnants of what was an unsettled bullpen in 2015, rebuilt this offseason with more experienced relievers. Oliver Perez, Shawn Kelley, and Yusmeiro Petit seem destined to steal roles filled by younger Nationals last season. Gott has a high-90s fastball and is under team control until 2022, so he’ll likely find a spot.
A few minutes into his Nationals tenure, which had, by that point, included a few minutes sitting next to Dusty Baker signing autographs and little more, no one had told Gott exactly what his role might be. He closed at the University of Kentucky, where he set school records for saves in a season in 2012, when his Wildcats went 40-0 when leading after seven innings. Though he started in high school, he’s been bred as a reliever ever since.
“I think all relievers goal is to become a closer at some point, but that’s a long-term goal,” Gott said. “Right now, I’m just trying to fit in with the Nationals — wherever they want me, whatever I can do to help the team win.”
Gott will stand out among young Nationals pitchers, because most of them stand far taller than the six feet at which Gott is listed — a measurement that must have been taken in cleats, or something taller, because in person, Gott can’t be much more than 5 feet 8. Nationals President of Baseball Operations hunts big-bodied pitchers — the tall, long types that can fill out over time and create leverage in the meantime: Blake Treinen, Joe Ross, Lucas Giolito, and the like. But Rizzo said the Nationals examined Gott’s delivery and loved his strike-heavy approach. So they modified the mold.
Gott threw that high-90s fastball about 84 percent of the time in 2015, mixed in what he called a “slurve” and threw a changeup here and there. He says he’s working on honing the secondary stuff this offseason, after learning that the big leagues require a different kind of steadiness than the minors — where he played with Ross in the Padres system — or college.
“You have to be ready every day. You have to be consistent,” Gott said. “You can’t work on stuff during games like you can in the minor leagues. You have to have your best stuff, and if you don’t, you have to figure out a way to still get people out.”
Gott said he learned from watching Angels veterans Joe Smith and Huston Street, a late-inning stalwart with a similarly slight build. Nationals Pitching Coach Mike Maddux saw Gott almost daily with the Rangers last year, and praised the attitude Rizzo and the Nationals evaluators decided gave the righty good late-inning upside.
“We saw Gott five days in a row at one point,” Maddux said. “Bless his heart, he was out there giving everything he had. That’s the one thing you really admire about it: Here they were, late in the year, and he’s giving it all he’s got and then some.”
As of right now, the Nationals’ bullpen contains Perez and Felipe Rivero as lefties, and Kelley, Petit, Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon as veteran right-handers. That could leave one or two more open spots — though that could change if the Nationals trade Storen or Papelbon — and Gott seems likely to compete for one. Treinen, who was up-and-down in 2014 but has the tantalizing stuff and good-guy personality that combine to earn pitchers plenty of chances, will likely also be in the mix, along with the handful of young pitchers who shuffled through the Nationals’ bullpen over the course of the 2015 season.