Injury-ravaged Nationals forced to call up 19-year-old MLB prospect
The Washington Nationals are in the midst of one of the most snakebitten seasons in Major League Baseball history.
Statistically, they’re 5-10 in one-run games and 19-11 in games decided by two runs or more; historically, records in one-run games tend to track with teams’ overall records. If they won a few more of the close ones, they might well catch the 27-17 Braves, who lead them by three games in the National League East standings.
Likewise, they’re tracking below their “Pythagorean record,” a measure of how run differential affects win total over a 162-game season; their 24-20 record before Sunday’s action was a game below their expected record of 25-19.
And, of course, beyond all that math stuff, half their starting lineup is on the disabled list. Matt Wieters, Ryan Zimmerman, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton and Brian Goodwin are all about as involved in the game action as the fans at the stadium are at this point.
But wait, there’s more! Not only is half of the Nationals’ major league lineup injured, but all of their best minor league prospects are hurt too. Victor Robles has an arm injury, while Rafael Bautista, their Triple-A outfielder and most likely candidate for an emergency replacement in the outfield, just went down with a knee injury and is gone for the entire season.
So what are the Nats to do? Hold a promotion where the first 1,000 adult men through the gate for the next game get to try out for the big leagues and the winner gets a uniform, a bat and his picture taken for a baseball card?
Not quite. Instead, Washington has called up Juan Soto, a 19-year-old prospect from the Dominican Republic, whose minor league experience amounts to only eight games at Double-A and the rest in Single-A or Rookie League. He’s now the youngest player in MLB.
On the bright side, Soto’s little Ken Griffey Jr. moment isn’t completely without merit; he entered the season ranked in the top 30 prospects by Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com.
Baseball Prospectus even called him a “7-hit, 6-pop” player, which for the layman means he’s one of the best 19-year-old Dominican position players to storm onto the major league diamond since Alex Rodriguez.
Of course, drawing comparisons to A-Rod based on age and ethnicity and drawing them based on actual on-field performance are two different things, and A-Rod had a downright terrible .264 on-base percentage in 48 games in his age-19 season in 1995 with the Mariners.
Griffey, who like Soto is an outfielder, had a .748 OPS in his rookie year, a number so mediocre for his position that he wouldn’t fail to top it until 20 years later, when he was washed up at age 39.
The point here is that even if Soto is a Hall of Famer someday, he’s still a raw 19-year-old prospect who has eight games of Double-A experience but is being press-ganged into learning big league baseball the hard way.
Soto made his MLB debut against the Dodgers on Sunday, pinch-hitting in the eighth — and striking out. The Nationals lost 7-2.
Washington, which fell to 24-21, sits in fourth place in the NL East.
In theory, the Nats could hold fast while they try to get everyone healthy and try to make a run late in the season and sneak into the playoffs.
In practice, it’s probably time to consider a rebuilding year and possibly even turn into sellers at the trade deadline to get a younger and healthier team on the field.
After all, the Nationals’ average age for hitters is 28.1, and their pitchers’ average age is 30.7.
Guys like Soto are the future, and the future, apparently, is now.
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