The Nationals announced Wednesday morning that they’ve signed first baseman Matt Adams, infielder Travis Blankenhorn, and righties Tommy Romero and Anthony Castro to minor league contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training.
It’s a D.C. reunion for Adams, who won a World Series ring with the 2019 Nationals as a key bench bat for manager Dave Martinez. The now-34-year-old Adams appeared in 111 games that season, offsetting a huge strikeout rate (34.5%) and paltry OBP (.276) with some substantial power contributions: 20 home runs and 14 doubles, despite tallying just 333 plate appearances.
Adams has scarcely appeared in the big leagues since, totaling just 91 plate appearances between the Braves (2020) and Rockies (2021) with a combined .176/.231/.282 slash to show for it. Adams was out of affiliated ball entirely in 2022 but spent the bulk of the season with the Kansas City Monarchs of the independent American Association, for whom he slugged 27 home runs in just 367 plate appearances while turning in a .248/.327/.554 batting line.
Power has long been a part of “Big City’s” game, as he’s thrice had a 20-homer season with fewer than 400 plate appearances. Dating back to his 2012 debut with the Cardinals, Adams is a career .258/.306/.463 hitter, although those numbers are skewed by some dismal performances against left-handed pitching (career .210/.241/.378). When holding the platoon advantage, the lefty-swinging Adams is a .268/.320/.481 hitter. He’ll compete for a part-time first base/DH role this spring.
Romero, too, will be returning for a second stint with the Nats. The 25-year-old landed in Washington via waivers earlier this season and made one start late in the year, during which he yielded six earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings. Romero, however, was a fairly well-regarded arm with the Rays organization as recently as last offseason and enjoyed a solid showing between the Triple-A affiliates for the Rays and Nats: 3.24 ERA, 20.2% strikeout rate, 9.5% walk rate in 86 innings. He can serve as either rotation or bullpen depth for a Nationals staff that is teeming with uncertainty.
The 27-year-old Castro has pitched in the Majors in each of the past three seasons, showing promising life on his fastball and an ability to miss bats but also struggling with command — particularly as it pertains to home runs. Castro has a 6.00 ERA in 39 big league frames, due largely to an mammoth average of 2.31 home runs allowed per nine innings pitched. His heater averaged 95.2 mph in 2022 with the Guardians, and he’s fanned a quarter of the opponents he’s faced in the Majors, but throwing strikes (10.6% walk rate) and avoiding the middle of the plate on the strikes he does throw have both proven challenging.
Castro has a 3.19 ERA in two Triple-A seasons and has punched out 30.2% of his opponents at that level. He’s out of minor league options, so if he’s added to the big league roster at any point, he can’t be sent back to the minors without first passing through waivers.
Blankenhorn, 26, was a third-round pick by the Twins in 2015 and has been a fairly consistent hitter in the upper minors, topping out with a .260/.347/.462 batting line in 598 Triple-A plate appearances. He’s played primarily third base and second base in his pro career but has more recently begun to see time at first base and in the outfield corners. Blankenhorn is just 5-for-29 in a tiny sample of MLB time between the Twins and Mets. He’ll compete for a bench job in Spring Training and otherwise give the Nats a relatively versatile defender and lefty bat to stash in Triple-A for the 2023 season.