- - Wednesday, March 14, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Last July the Nationals traded 20-year-old pitching pitcher Jesus Luzardo as part of a deal to the Oakland A’s that netted Washington veteran relievers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle.

Following the 2016 season a trio of young right-handers — minor leaguer Dane Dunning, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez — were traded by the Nationals to the Chicago White Sox for Adam Eaton, slated to play left field this year.

And in the summer of 2016 lefty Felipe Rivero of Washington was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates for veteran closer Mark Melancon, now with San Francisco.

“It is a great problem to have. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your crop of young prospects to help win at the big league level,” said Mark Scialabba, the director of player development for the Nationals. “That is where we would rather be.”

The Nationals have traded 10 minor league pitchers since January 2016, as well as young pitchers with limited big league experience. But Scialabba feels there is more pitching talent in the system.

“Our goal in player development is to maximize each player’s ability to play in Washington, D.C., to help us win a World Series, or so he has value for (general manager) Mike Rizzo and the front office so they can acquire what we need” in trades, said Scialabba, sitting in an office at the Nationals spring training complex.

The organization has six pitchers among its top 20 prospects, according to MLB.com: Erick Fedde (4), Seth Romero (5), Wil Crowe (8), Luis Reyes (14), Jackson Tetreault (15) and Nick Raquet (16), who was drafted last year out of William & Mary.

Of the system’s top 27 prospects, 10 are pitchers, according to Baseball America. MLBPipeline.com has three pitchers in the top six, while Baseball Prospectus has two pitchers in the top 10.

Carlos Collazo, a national writer for Baseball America, compiled the top 30 list on the Nationals for this season. He said Washington ranks 15th overall out of 30 teams in terms of minor league prospects, while two years ago they were No. 5.

“They definitely made a strong effort to improve pitching prospects in the last draft,” Collazo said. “They definitely loaded up” with nine pitchers in the top 10 picks.

Clearly there are not as many high-level pitching prospects as a few years ago, but Scialabba feels there are still young hurlers such as Fedde and Austin Voth who can help the big league squad soon.

Fedde, 25, made his Major League debut with the Nationals last year while starting three games and posting a 9.39 ERA. He is in the running for the fifth spot in the Nationals starting rotation this spring.

“He didn’t look rattled. He was trying to attack them all, and that was good to see,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters after Fedde faced world champion Houston on Saturday and gave up one run in three innings.

“Erick is a competitor,” Scialabba said. “We feel very confident he will help our Major League team in the near future.”

That may not be the case for Romero, a lefty who was drafted last June in the first round out of college in Houston despite several off-the-field incidents as an amateur. He was sent home from spring training by the Nationals earlier this month for violating club rules and Scialabba would not comment on his status.

But Scialabba is high on right-hander Voth, 25, who was in spring training with the Nationals before he was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse March 8. He is the 26th-best prospect in the system according to Baseball America.

Crowe was drafted in the second round last year from the University of South Carolina and advanced to short-season Auburn of the New York-Penn League, where he had a 2.61 ERA.

“Right now we are very pleased with where he is physically,” Scialabba said of Crowe. “All pitches are average to above at times. He has a high ceiling.”

Reyes, 23, signed out of the Dominican Republic and had a 4.33 ERA last year in 23 starts with high Single-A Potomac of the Carolina League.

“Real easy arm action,” Scialabba said of Reyes, who throws a sinking fastball in the low 90s. “A curve that has one of the highest spin rates in the organization. On any given day he has the ability to show Major League quality pitches.”

Tetreault, 21, was drafted in the seventh round in 2017 out of a junior college in Florida. A 6-5 right-hander, he posted an ERA of 2.58 in 11 games for Auburn last year. “He has an electric arm,” Scialabba said.

The Nationals, for the most part, are rarely burned on young pitchers they trade away, though Rivero became the Pirates closer with 23 saves last season. Right-hander Alex Meyer, dealt to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Denard Span in 2012, has a big league ERA of 4.63.

Brad Peacock helped the Astros win a World Series last October after several subpar years after leaving Washington in 2011 in a deal that netted Gio Gonzalez from Oakland. Lefty Robbie Ray developed into an All-Star starter with Arizona last season only after he was traded by Detroit, who got him in a deal with the Nationals in 2013.

Washington took a lot of heat for trading Giolito and Lopez in exchange for Eaton. Giolito posted an ERA of 2.38 in seven starts with the White Sox last year while Lopez was at 4.72 in eight starts.

Meanwhile the Nationals try to develop the next flock of pitchers.

“It is not a cookie-cutter development program. We will develop each player within their time frame we feel will maximize their development,” Scialabba said. If that means trading them for veterans for a postseason run, then so be it.

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