Mike Rizzo on why Nationals are cautious expediting prospects through Minors

Rizzo on why Nats are cautious expediting prospects through Minors originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

It’s no secret that the 2022 season has been a rebuilding year for the Nationals. The team entered the season expected to finish last in the NL East following last summer’s firesale at the trade deadline, and despite some bright spots, Washington has largely lived down to its expectations.

For many rebuilding teams, a major goal is player development of its younger players. The same can be true for the Nationals, as guys like Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray, and Luis Garcia — all players expected to be a big part of the team’s future — are, for the most part, going through their first full Big League season.

But Washington has also trotted out several veterans this season, players that likely won’t be on the roster when the team is competitive again. Fans would much rather see the team’s top prospects compete at the Big League level, but general manager Mike Rizzo has specific criteria he follows before calling them up to the Majors.

“We bring players to the Big Leagues when they are Big League ready,” Rizzo said on the Sports Junkies. “There’s a developmental curve that belongs here. We want to make sure these young, good prospects are ready to pitch in the Big Leagues and that once they get here, they’re here to stay.

“Are they ready to compete at the Big League level?” Rizzo continued. “Are they fully prepared physically, emotionally, stuff-wise for the grind of the Major League season? That’s the only criteria we use to bring up a player, whether it’s a pitcher or a position player.”

The most recent example can be seen in Washington’s starting rotation. Aníbal Sánchez, who turned 38 in February, is set to make his season debut on the mound Thursday. Meanwhile, Cade Cavalli — the Nationals’ top prospect — remains in Triple-A Rochester despite having arguably his best month at the level.

Earlier this season, Washington trotted out 35-year-old shortstop Alcides Escobar, who served as the Nationals’ everyday starter at the position. Meanwhile, Garcia was raking in Triple-A but was not called back up to the Big Leagues until June following an injury to Escobar. Garcia has served as the Nationals’ primary shortstop since.

Despite the 2022 season being a “retool,” Rizzo’s rationale for playing veterans like Escobar and Sánchez has to do with the ultimate goal of winning baseball games.

“There’s no level beyond the Big Leagues. This is it,” Rizzo said. “The greatest 780 players in the world are playing here every night. It’s a league that’s extremely competitive. There’s no working on changeups up here or ‘I got to work on my delivery.’ You’re here to win baseball games.”

The Nationals’ general manager made it clear that when the team calls a top prospect up to the Majors, the goal is for them to remain there. It’s why Washington has been so careful in choosing when to promote its top players in the farm system.

Sitting in the basement of the NL East, it’s hard to imagine the Nationals are back competing for a playoff berth in 2023 or even 2024. Yet, Rizzo maintains the franchise is going through a retool rather than a rebuild.

“This is a reboot year,” he said. “We don’t call it a rebuild because a rebuild is a five or six-year process. I think this is a shorter reboot. We’ve shown in the past that we know how to do these things.

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