We’ve neared the end of Spring Training, and the Nationals roster is beginning to take shape. Players who impressed this Spring, like Zach Walters. Brock Peterson, A.J Cole, and Sammy Solis have departed for the minor leagues. But there are two names of the thirty left in big league camp who are both surprising and intriguing: relievers Blake Treinen and Aaron Barrett. With the news that Ross Detwiler would be moved to the bullpen, it seems that there is only one bullpen spot left with a whole host of pitchers (Ryan Mattheus, Mike Gonzalez, Xavier Cedeno) vying for that coveted last spot. So do Barrett and Treinen stand a chance?
In 2010, the Nationals drafted Aaron Barrett with the 266th pick of the draft. Barrett, who was a starter at the University of Mississippi, immediately struggled in rookie ball, allowing 22 earned runs in 21 innings in his first season. His struggles were so bad, that he was considering giving up baseball. After his atrocious 2010 season, Barrett gave up starting pitching and was moved to the bullpen, where, in 2011, he continued to struggle with his command. However, something changed for Barrett in 2012. Barrett started the season in single-A with the Hagerstown Suns, where he impressed many by dropping his ERA to 2.60 in 34.2 before getting called up to single-A+ Potomac in July. In Potomac, Barrett continued to improve, compiling a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings. In 2013, Barrett played the entire season in AA Harrisburg, where, from the pen, he had a 2.15 ERA in 50.1 innings, while striking out 69 batters, and only walking 15. This offseason, Barrett received his first invite to major league camp, and thus far, he has not disappointed. In 8.2 innings this spring, Barrett has yet allowed a run, and has only allowed 4 base runners, while striking out 7. What makes Barrett so effective is his slider, which has been his main pitch throughout his career. Barrett also features a low-90’s fastball with sink, that Harrisburg Senators pitching coach Chris Michalak has described as a “bowling ball”. What would give Barrett an edge over Treinen is the fact that last November, Barrett was placed on the 40-man roster, meaning that if he were to start the season in the majors, the Nationals would not need to designate any of their players for assignment.
Blake Treinen’s time in the Nationals organization has been much shorter than Barrett’s as Treinen was acquired last offseason along with AJ Cole and Ian Krol in Michael Morse trade. In his first season in professional baseball, Treinen was exclusively used as a relief pitcher. Then, in 2012, the single-A+ Stockton Ports shuttled Treinen from relief to starting pitching. By the end of the season, Treinen was almost exclusively used as a starting pitcher. After the before mentioned Michael Morse trade, Treinen was sent up to AA Harrisburg, where he started in 20 of 21 games he appeared in, posting a 3.64 ERA in 118.2 innings pitched with 2.61 K/BB ratio. Similarly to Barrett, this spring is Treinen’s first with a major league club. Even though his stats this spring haven’t been all that impressive, his stuff wows the scouts. Treinen’s repertoire is headlined by his 97 MPH slider, which has one scout saying that Treinen is absolutely one of the Nationals best 12 arms in the organization. However, Treinen’s raw stuff has not led to dominance in the minor leagues. His career K/9 of 7.7 is not particularly eye-popping. His 1.28 career WHIP is similarly uninspiring. On top of that, Treinen is not currently on the Nationals 40 man roster, which means that if he were to make the team, the Nationals most have to designate a player for assignment, with the most likely candidates being catcher Jhonatan Solano or utility man Jeff Kobernus.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that there are other pitchers also competing for that final bullpen spot. Mike Gonzalez, who was signed to a deal on March 4th, has struggled, compiling a 9.00 ERA in 4 appearances this spring. Xavier Cedeno has look good, but it is unlikely that the Nationals will want to carry a third lefty. Ryan Mattheus has been hurt the entire spring, and will most likely be ready for the start of the season. So that leaves Treinen and Barrett as two of the strongest viable candidates for the job. Even though Treinen’s raw talent is good enough to start in the majors, he has not yet harnessed it to become the dominate pitcher that his talent suggest. Barrett does not have the stuff that Treinen does, but he has shown more consistency in his last two seasons and against major league hitting this spring. If one of the two were to win the last spot, the Nationals would be wise to pick Aaron Barrett over Blake Treinen.