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Nationals’ top pitching prospects getting set for spring training spotlight

Top prospect Jackson Rutledge headlines the Nationals’ 32 nonroster invitees to spring training. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
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To hedge against the uncertainty of minor league spring training and assure themselves chances to see more of their top prospects, the Washington Nationals have invited a handful of young, talented pitchers to camp in West Palm Beach, Fla. Their total number of nonroster invitees is 32, a group highlighted by Jackson Rutledge, Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, Tim Cate and Matt Cronin, who were all drafted in recent years and will now begin their first major league spring trainings.

In all, the Nationals will start out with 71 players in camp, including the 39 on their 40-man roster. And as of Wednesday afternoon, the group also includes a bunch of familiar veterans who will look to impress in the coming weeks. The first pitchers and catchers workout is scheduled for Thursday morning. The first full-squad workout is scheduled for Tuesday.

Below is the full list of nonroster invitees, by position and alphabetical order.

Pitchers: Luis Avilán, Aaron Barrett, Bryan Bonnell, Tim Cate, Cade Cavalli, Jacob Condra-Bogan, Matt Cronin, Tyler Dyson, Tyler Eppler, Paolo Espino, Javy Guerra, Cole Henry, Gabe Klobosits, T.J. McFarland, Todd Peterson, Jefry Rodriguez, Jackson Rutledge

Catchers: Welington Castillo, Israel Pineda, Raudy Read, Jakson Reetz, Brandon Snyder (utility player), Blake Swihart

Infielders: Jackson Cluff, Drew Mendoza, Jordy Mercer, Hernán Pérez, Adrián Sanchez

Outfielders: Gerardo Parra, Carlos Tocci, Yasmany Tomás, Cody Wilson

The Nationals’ biggest spring training roster questions are all on the margins

Most years, major and minor league spring training overlap inside the same complex. But in 2021, as the sport again tries to play through the coronavirus pandemic, the Nationals are expected to fully split the two camps. That means minor league training won’t start until the Nationals head north in late March (Opening Day is April 1). And that will make it hard — and in some cases impossible — for Manager Dave Martinez, his coaches and the front office to peek at the next generation.

That helps explain why starters Cavalli and Henry, both drafted in June, will be in major league camp. Cavalli and Rutledge, the Nationals’ past two first-round picks, are the consensus top prospects in a consensus bottom-five farm system. Henry and Cate are in that mix, too. Cronin, drafted in the fourth round in 2019, is a left-handed reliever with a lot of promise.

It’s unlikely that any of them immediately compete for spots. But playing in front of the club’s decision-makers is a necessary step.

Also in that category are catcher Israel Pineda, shortstop Jackson Cluff and first baseman Drew Mendoza. Pineda, 20, is from Venezuela and has caught the front office’s attention in recent seasons. Cluff, 24, is among the infielders next in line now that Carter Kieboom and Luis García have debuted. Mendoza, 23, has flashed his power-hitting potential since the 2019 draft. All three were late additions to the Nationals’ alternate site in 2020.

Aside from those prospects, veterans such as Guerra, Barrett, Espino, Parra, Mercer, Sanchez, Castillo and Snyder will get another shot to hang on with Washington. Read, a 27-year-old with minimal major league experience, is also in that boat after being designated for assignment in October. Then there are Avilán, McFarland, Rodriguez, Swihart, Pérez, Tocci and Tomás, who each arrived from elsewhere to grip a fading chance.

Avilán and McFarland have a chance to make the Opening Day roster if the Nationals want another experienced lefty in their bullpen. Parra, he of “Baby Shark” fame, has a chance if Washington wants to round out its bench with a fifth outfielder who hits left-handed and loosens up the clubhouse. Guerra has a chance if the Nationals are drawn to knowing who he is, how he operates and that he’ll pitch whenever asked, as he did in parts of 2019 and 2020.

Pérez, Mercer or Sanchez has a chance if the Nationals want to carry another versatile infielder. Tomás, a former top prospect with the Arizona Diamondbacks, has a chance if his power pops off the charts this spring. There’s a way to squeeze each of these nonroster invitees onto a hypothetical roster. At a certain age in baseball, that’s about all a guy can ask for.