- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Washington Nationals unveiled their list of non-roster invites for spring training Wednesday, a group featuring several well-known veterans and a few fresh-faced prospects who will receive their first taste of a major league camp.

With uncertainty around when minor league camp will begin due to the coronavirus pandemic, the addition of prospects to the Nationals’ spring training camp gives manager Dave Martinez and the front office a chance to evaluate certain players they wouldn’t otherwise see. Plus, those up-and-comers will have a head start for whenever the minor league campaign gets underway.

Ten of Washington’s top-30 ranked prospects received camp invites, including Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli. Cavalli was selected in the first round of the 2020 draft, and the 22-year-old right-hander from Oklahoma is the team’s No. 1 prospect, according to Baseball America.

Rutledge was a first-round selection in 2019, and he spent last season at the Nationals’ alternate training site. The 6-foot-8 right-handed pitcher is the franchise’s second-best prospect, according to Baseball America, but has limited time at the professional level, pitching 10 games across Rookie and Single-A levels.

Cole Henry is another right-handed pitcher, and Baseball America lists him as the third-best prospect in the pipeline. He joins left-hander Tim Cate, left-hander Matt Cronin, first baseman Drew Mendoza, catcher Israel Pineda, right-hander Tyler Dyson, shortstop Jackson Cluff and catcher Raudy Read as the prospects included as non-roster invites.

In total, Washington added 32 non-roster invites to camp, bringing its spring training total to 71 — they have 39 players on the 40-man roster. Among the veterans is outfielder Gerardo Parra, who made a splash in the team’s 2019 World Series run with his “Baby Shark” walk-up music. Parra spent last season playing in Japan, hitting .272 with 14 RBIs in 55 games.

Other options to sneak their way onto the Opening Day roster could be Jordy Mercer, Adrian Sanchez or Hernan Perez. All three are utility infielders, and that’s a spot on the bench the Nationals might want to fill.

Mercer has bounced around of late at the back end of a nine-year career, but the 34-year-old spent the bulk of his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He only played nine games last season between the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees, but he hit .270 in 74 games for the Tigers in 2019.

Sanchez first signed with the Nationals in 2007 as an undrafted free agent, and the 30-year-old has featured sparingly between 2017 and 2019 for the club, with a .263 average in 90 career games. He tore his Achilles in June 2020.

Perez could feature at any position on the diamond. In his nine major league seasons, Perez has played all nine available positions in the field — including 7.1 innings as a pitcher. That versatility alone makes him an intriguing possibility, but his career .667 on-base-plus-slugging percentage also helps.

Washington added two left-handed bullpen arms in Brad Hand and Sam Clay, but T.J. McFarland and Luis Avilan are non-roster options should Martinez want another southpaw in the mix. McFarland threw 20.2 innings for the Oakland Athletics last season and finished with a 4.35 ERA. Avilan only pitched 8.1 frames for the Yankees, amassing a 1.68 WHIP.

There are plenty of right-handed arms invited to camp who might impress enough to earn a roster spot. Javy Guerra, Jefry Rodriguez and Aaron Barrett have all featured for the Nationals before. Jacob Condra-Bogan, a 26-year-old who will appear in his first major league spring training camp, pitched at Double-A Harrisburg in 2019. He posted a 3.61 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 38 appearances.

However it shakes out, each of the 32 non-roster invites — from prospects to veterans — will hope to catch the eye of Washington’s decision-makers. Pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday around the league, the Nationals’ first training session will take place Thursday. The full squad will begin practice next week. 

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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