Cavalli, Rutledge headline Nationals team at Instructional League originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Desperate for more prospect work and formal games against outside opposition, Mike Rizzo hammered on the need for a fall league of some kind when the regular season ended. No one played in the minor leagues. Several of the Nationals’ international players were stuck without games all summer because they could not return home or come to the alternate training site in Fredericksburg. And, the Nationals’ young pitchers needed somewhere to go for more work.
Enter the team’s 2020 version of an Instructional League. The Nationals have a 66-player ensemble at their spring training facility in West Palm Beach set to play 12 games against the Miami Marlins’ equivalent group. It’s redundant, but not anywhere near as much as facing the same pitchers and hitters on a daily basis in Fredericksburg. The group at the alternate training site couldn’t even field a full team.
Games in West Palm Beach began Tuesday with 2020 first-round pick Cade Cavalli pitching first. Reliever Matt Cronin -- who could be a rapid ascender in the organization -- was slated to finish the game.
Most of what is happening in West Palm Beach is about pitching, much like the Nationals’ minor-league operation as a whole. Washington has selected a pitcher with its first pick for five consecutive drafts. Half of their 38 draft picks in 2019 were pitchers. Of the 66 players in West Palm Beach, 35 are pitchers.
Rizzo continues to contend the Nationals’ minor-league-system contains several future impact players, though prospect trackers often rank the organization’s farm system last or near the bottom of the league after several players were either traded or brought up to the major leagues in pursuit of a title, which the Nationals accomplished in 2019.
Among those currently in West Palm Beach are Seth Romero and Mason Denaburg. Romero is still not ready to pitch after breaking his non-pitching hand in a fall Aug. 22. The Nationals thought he could be back before the regular season ended, but Romero needed surgery on the broken hand and had trouble putting a glove on. He is listed as “Major League rehab” on the Instructional League roster.
Denaburg is expected to pitch in the coming days against Miami. He threw live batting practice Tuesday. It’s progress for the 2018 first-round pick who has thrown just 20 ⅓ innings at the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League since being drafted. Various shoulder problems, including an offseason shoulder procedure last year, have slowed him since being selected out of high school.
Cavalli, Jackson Rutledge (2019 first-round pick) and Romero were at the alternate training site. Denaburg was a notable exclusion.
After Tuesday, the Nationals’ Instructional League team will play 11 more games against Miami through Oct. 24.
Here’s the full roster:
Jeremy De La Rosa