If a Washington Nationals fan fell asleep in late July, say right before the 30th, then hibernated for a month, they would be very disoriented by almost a third of the current roster. Out went Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Daniel Hudson, Yan Gomes, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Harrison, Brad Hand and Jon Lester, as was well documented during this imaginary slumber. But incrementally, those holes were filled with six of the 14 players the team added in trades or off the waiver wire, most of them unknown to the casual viewer — or the casual Rip Van Winkle — in D.C., Maryland or Virginia.
The total increased when the club unofficially promoted Keibert Ruiz, its top prospect, on Sunday morning. He is set to debut against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday, and the Nationals (55-74) optioned catcher Tres Barrera to make room. Ruiz and Josiah Gray, who will face the Phillies, came from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a four-player package for Scherzer and Turner. Also on the roster are catcher Riley Adams (acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays for Hand), outfielder Lane Thomas (from the St. Louis Cardinals for Lester), and relievers Mason Thompson (from the San Diego Padres for Hudson) and Patrick Murphy (claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays in mid-August).
So who’s left? And who could be next in line?
“I want to see them play, and it’s been a lot of fun getting to know these guys, new faces, new conversations,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said after a 9-4 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday. “With that being said, I want to start winning games consistently. We can sit back and say: ‘Hey, we’re close every day. We’ve been playing well.' But we got to start winning some of these games. That’s part of just teaching.”
The eight remaining players are outfielder Donovan Casey, first baseman Mike Ford, shortstop Jordy Barley, catcher Drew Millas and four right-handed pitchers: Gerardo Carrillo, Richard Guasch, Seth Shuman and Aldo Ramirez. Casey and Carrillo filled out the haul for Scherzer and Turner. Ford was another waiver claim, arriving from the Tampa Bay Rays on Aug. 23. Barley was the second player netted from the Padres for Hudson. Ramirez came from Boston Red Sox for Schwarber. Millas, Guasch and Shuman were the return for sending Gomes and Harrison to the Oakland Athletics.
Based on age and minor league assignment, Casey and Ford are closest to joining the Nationals. Casey, 25, first played for the Class AA Harrisburg Senators and had 17 hits, including three homers, a triple and two doubles, in 49 at-bats. In a limited sample, he shaved down the high strikeout rate he had with the Dodgers’ Class AA affiliate. He was quickly promoted and has been more than solid for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, even if his strikeouts have ticked back up a bit. The Nationals like that he could play all three outfield positions.
Ford, who turned 29 in July, had an impressive debut stretch with the New York Yankees in 2019, smacking 12 homers and seven doubles in 163 plate appearances. But he has since struggled to turn evident power into results. The Yankees traded him to the Rays in mid-July. The Rays designated him for assignment about a month later and never promoted him to the majors.
This year, teams will get only two additional spots for September, meaning space will be tight. Casey could get a test run in a crowded outfield picture, though he needs to leapfrog Andrew Stevenson and get a 40-man roster spot before he’s activated. Ford, who is already on the 40-man, is less likely to get a call in the coming weeks.
“A lot of that had to come from my approach and looking to drive the baseball,” Casey said when asked about his spike in power in 2021. "In college, I was more line drives, hit a groundball and move runners type of hitter. As I kind of developed and learned more about how the approach works, that’s all I do: early in counts, looking for your pitch.”
After Casey and Ford, though, Millas, Carrillo, Barley, Guasch, Shuman and Ramirez will be part of a more distant future (if part of the Nationals’ future at all).
Millas, a switch-hitting catcher like Ruiz, has consistently produced for the high-Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks. But he entered the organization behind Ruiz, Adams and Tres Barrera and perhaps others in the pecking order. In Washington’s ideal world, Ruiz and Adams are their tandem for the next half decade. The Nationals also had been high on Israel Pineda, a 21-year-old from Venezuela, who has hit for some power this season but otherwise struggled. This organizational catching depth did not exist until the deadline fire sale.
Barley, 21, had a strong debut with the low-Class A Fredericksburg Nationals before tapering off. He has a .192 batting average, .322 on-base percentage and .315 slugging percentage in 19 games there, plus 12 walks, 28 strikeouts and seven steals.
Carrillo, 22, has yielded 10 earned runs in 19⅔ innings with Harrisburg. Guasch, 23, has yielded five earned runs in 13 innings with Wilmington, striking out 14. Shuman, 23, has logged 16⅓ innings for the Blue Rocks and allowed 12 earned runs on 15 hits. And Ramirez, 20 and the youngest of the new group, was recently activated from his rehab for an elbow injury suffered with Boston’s Class A affiliate in late June. Ramirez has made two appearances in West Palm Beach, Fla., working three total innings.
MLB Pipeline ranks Carrillo (eighth), Ramirez (12th), Casey (22nd), Millas (24th), Barley (29th) and Guasch (30th) among the Nationals’ top 30 prospects. And with the exception of Casey, it should be a while before they are tested in the majors.