With the shortened 2020 MLB season, MLB rosters have been expanded to 30 players. Currently, teams have a roster pool of 60 players for Spring Training 2.0, which must be cut to 30 players before the season gets underway on July 23rd when the defending World Series champions Washington Nationals taken on the New York Yankees.
Two National players have opted out of the 2020 season, Joe Ross and Ryan Zimmerman. Joe Ross was slated to be the fifth starter for the Nationals, while Zimmerman was going to be part of the crowded 1B/DH platoon.
The 60-man roster pool consists of many of the top prospects in the Nationals farm system. Among them, is 2019 first-round pick Jackson Rutledge and 2017 first-round pick Seth Romero who is coming off Tommy John surgery. Although many of these top prospects likely won’t make the team, manager Davey Martinez could get an early look at some prospects who could be making the big league club down the road, especially on an aging rotation.
With the shortened 2020 season, the Nationals should rely heavily on their bullpen, especially with their starters most likely on a pitch count for the first few times through the rotation. With a bullpen full of unknowns, this could lead to some surprises in the pitching department as they could keep 15-16 pitchers. Despite many of these prospects having an uphill climb due to experience and service time, perhaps the Nationals decide to go with upside in the abbreviated season. Here are four surprising players who could make the 30-man roster.
1. Dakota Bacus, RHP
Some Washington Nationals fans may be familiar with Dakota Bacus as he was expected to be a September call-up last season. However, most Nationals’ fans haven’t heard much about the 29-year old pitcher.
Bacus was acquired by the Nationals in 2013 when they traded Kurt Suzuki to the Oakland Athletics. He has thrown over 600 innings throughout his minor league career and has maintained a solid ERA of 3.53. This past season, in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Bacus posted a 3.58 ERA despite a couple of rough outings inflating his ERA in a stellar season. In his first 30 appearances, Bacus had a 1.11 ERA and a .184 BAA. He primarily relies on a mid-90s fastball, with an upper 80s hard slider.
The shortened season will make many teams rely on pitching depth, and Bacus could provide just that for the Nationals. He would most likely begin in low leverage situations, and work his way up to higher leverage situations. The Nationals bullpen should be much improved in 2020 with the addition of Will Harris, retaining Daniel Hudson, and adding experience to Wander Suero and Tanner Rainey. With the lack of depth, Bacus could sneak into the Nationals 30-man roster.
2. Kevin Quackenbush, RHP
Kevin Quackenbush was a non-roster Spring Training invitee for the Washington Nationals. Quackenbush, 31-years old, has five years of major league experience with the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds. Making his debut in 2014, Quackenbush got off to a strong start posting a 2.48 ERA in 56 appearances, while striking out 54. Quackenbush took a step back the next two seasons, as he had a 3.92 and 4.01 ERA respectively, and his FIP rose to 4.59 in 2016. In 2017 and 2018, he had just 30 appearances and an 8.66 ERA.
Despite a short stint in Spring Training, Quackenbush pitched well in 5.1 innings, allowing just three hits, and not a single run. He doesn’t have an overwhelming fastball, sitting in the low 90s, but at his best, Quackenbush had 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings in his first two seasons. Quackenbush was part of the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system in 2019, where he posted a 5.06 in the Pacific Coast League but stuck out 13.1 batters per nine innings.
Much like Bacus, Quackenbush could provide bullpen depth for the Nationals. He could very well be competing with the Bacus, James Bourque, and others for the final two or three spots in the bullpen. Quackenbush provides solid upside for the Nationals if he could get remotely close to his 2014 production, but also provides an experience that younger pitchers won’t provide for the Nationals.
3. Emilio Bonifacio, Utililty
Emilio Bonifacio was another non-roster invitee for the Washington Nationals. Bonafacio had a short stint with the Nationals in the second half of the 2008 season, but most Nationals fans may remember him from the Florida and Miami Marlins from 2009 to 2012. Bonafacio has bounced around since then, last playing in the major leagues in 2017 with the Braves, where he batted .132. Last year, Bonafacio hit .286 with the Rays Triple-A Durham Bulls and hit eight home runs in 76 games. He played well in Spring training with 10 hits in 30 at-bats.
Bonafacio’s versatility makes him an intriguing fit on the Nationals 30 man roster. He can play all three outfield positions, as well as shortstop, third base and second base. The top five outfielders could be set for the Nationals with Andrew Stevenson and Michael A. Taylor as the fourth and fifth outfielders, but Bonafacio could be the sixth and give the Nationals more depth in the infield. Bonafacio is also a well-liked player in the clubhouse as manager Davey Martinez gave a slight comparison to fan-favorite Gerardo Parra.
Most likely on the outside looking in on the 25-man roster, Bonafacio is poised to be a late addition as a utilityman for the 2020 season. The versatility, experience, and clubhouse presence could give Bonafacio the edge over outfielders like Yadiel Hernandez, and infielders such as Jake Noll.
4. Luis Garcia, 2B
This pick is the most unlikely out of the four, and there are many reasons against bringing Luis Garcia up for the 2020 season. However, the Washington Nationals have been aggressive in calling up their young prospects, and Garcia could show enough to take the second base job from Starlin Castro. Garcia, the consensus second-best prospect in the Nationals farm system, looked excellent in Spring Training. He had ten hits and batted .417, easing some doubts about his bat following a rough season in Double-A. Garcia had just a .280 OBP with 86 strikeouts and 17 walks in the 2019 minor league season. However, Garcia’s glove seems to be major-league ready and an excellent Spring Training could lead to a tough decision for Dave Martinez.
As of now, the Nationals starting infield should be Starlin Castro, Trea Turner, and Carter Kieboom. Castro struggled in Spring training with just one hit in 24 at-bats. Maybe the Nationals look to that as an area for improvement and a risk worth taking. However, if the Nationals do stick with Castro, there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to keeping Garcia as a reserve, as the Nationals will waste a year of service time.
Although the odds are against him, there could be a path for Luis Garcia onto the 30-man roster.
Out of the four players discussed earlier, Garcia seems to be the biggest longshot, but the one who could have the largest impact. Quackenbush and Bacus should be competing against each other for the final bullpen spots, and Bonafacio could have the inside edge as a utilityman. There seems to be a strong likelihood of two out of the four players making the final roster.
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