NL Notes: Jeffress, Nationals, Varsho, Howard

The Nationalsrelease of Jeremy Jeffress yesterday carried some mystery, both because it came so early in Spring Training (and within three weeks of Jeffress signing with the Nats) and because GM Mike Rizzo used the odd phrasing of describing the release as due to “personnel reasons.”  Rizzo didn’t provide much further clarification in speaking with Mark Zuckerman of and other reporters today, apart from saying that Jeffress’ release was “an employment issue” and not related to on-field performance.

Jeffress himself has weighed in, texting Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post to say that the Nationals’ given reason for releasing him was “not true,” without specifying what the club said.  The veteran reliever also wrote a pair of tweets yesterday, one stating “I’m not what they say I am, I’m what God says! I don’t deserve this false negativity!” and another since-deleted tweet saying that his former agent “jus ruined my life.”  It remains to be seen if the reason behind Jeffress’ release will ever fully come to light, but if nothing else, this uncertain situation would seem to hamper Jeffress’ chances of catching on with another team.

More from the National League…

  • “Catcher/center fielder” isn’t exactly a common defensive skillset, and while Daulton Varsho saw more time in the outfield than he did behind the plate in his rookie season, the Diamondbacks are clear about their top prospect’s future role.  “We see him as a catcher who can play other positions, not as a center fielder who can catch,” Arizona assistant general manager Amiel Sawdaye told The Athletic’s Zach Buchanan.  Varsho is happy to play wherever, and the outfield might be his clearest path to more MLB playing time in 2021, considering the D’Backs have Carson Kelly and Stephen Vogt as their regular catching duo.  The team doesn’t want to take too much time away from Varsho’s development as a catcher, however, given the amount of specialized work that goes into learning the position at the big-league level.
  • The Phillies also face a question about how to deploy a top prospect, as Spencer Howard has never thrown more than 112 innings in any of his four pro seasons.  As Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes, the Phils could start Howard in the minors since rotation space could be hard to find, or they could manage his innings throughout the season in a relief role on the MLB roster.  The latter option would leave the door open to Howard eventually making some starts in 2021, though it would require the Phillies to also keep Howard stretched out in something of a swingman role so he could more easily shift into working as a starting pitcher.  A second-round pick for the Phillies in the 2017 draft, Howard’s minor league climb was slowed by some shoulder problems in 2019, and he has yet to pitch at Triple-A ball.  Philadelphia promoted Howard to the majors last summer after watching him at the alternate training site, and Howard posted a 5.92 ERA over 24 1/3 innings and six starts.

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