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Nats pitching trio finishes strong season at instructs

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

The Washington Nationals used their top three picks and nine of their first 10 overall selections in the 2017 Draft on college pitchers, forming a solid foundation of arms that could one day help supplant an aging big league rotation.

The Washington Nationals used their top three picks and nine of their first 10 overall selections in the 2017 Draft on college pitchers, forming a solid foundation of arms that could one day help supplant an aging big league rotation.

Instructional league rosters

Many of those pitchers are now participating in their second fall instructional league at the team's spring complex in West Palm Beach, Fla. Among them are Kyle Johnston, Nick Raquet and Jackson Tetreault, all fresh off of impressive first full seasons, during which they helped lead Class A Advanced Potomac to a runner-up finish in the Carolina League.

"I think all three finished up really well," said Nationals player development director Mark Scialabba. "It's tough to get through that first year without having any setbacks, and all three were healthy and stronger toward the end."

All three hurlers began the season with Class A Hagerstown, but they earned respective midseason promotions to Potomac and pitched well down the stretch. The trio was especially good in Carolina League playoffs, too, combining for a 1.62 ERA with 16 strikeouts and just seven hits allowed in 16 2/3 innings while making one start apiece.

After registering ERAs of 3.79 and 3.91 in July and August, respectively, Johnston, Washington's No. 20 prospect, fired 5 1/3 scoreless frames of two-hit ball in a rain-shortened start in Game 3 of the Carolina League semifinals. Altogether, the 2017 sixth-rounder posted a 4.12 ERA with 96 strikeouts and a .238 BAA in 102 2/3 innings across two levels.

"[Kyle] attacks the strike zone and is very aggressive, with a bulldog-type presence on the mound," Scialabba said. "He improved his confidence, threw more strikes this year, stayed within his delivery and had more success with it."

• Nats instructional league roster and schedule

Raquet (No. 16) received a promotion to Potomac on June 21, after compiling a 2.79 ERA over 12 starts in the Midwest League. The 22-year-old left-hander allowed two or fewer earned runs in five of his final six starts for the P-Nats, highlighted by a one-hit, seven-inning shutout -- his first career shutout and complete game -- in his last regular-season turn.

That success continued into the postseason for Raquet, as the former third-rounder matched his career high with eight strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings in a must-win Game 4 of the Carolina League semifinals.

"Nick really developed a feel to pitch this year," said Scialabba. "He really started to command the fastball much better, with nice, natural sink to it. He's still working to command his breaking balls, but his slider has taken the next step, and he commands it really well, with late, sharp biting action."

Tetreault (No. 26) also tossed a seven-inning complete game in his final regular-season start -- just his fourth start for Potomac following his Aug. 14 promotion -- and then allowed one run on three hits in five innings to earn the win in the decisive Game 5 in the semis. The former seventh-rounder finished the year with 138 strikeouts in 132 2/3 innings.

"[Jackson] had a really good second half of the season," said Scialabba of Tetreault, who pitched to a 2.99 ERA over his final 12 starts. "I think early on there were outings where he was elevated with his fastball and got hit around, but he learned how to command it and pitch inside, use different parts of the strike zone, and mix in his offspeeds a little more effectively."

The Nationals have never shied away from drafting high-risk, high-reward pitchers -- guys who normally would've been early first-round picks if not for injury or signability concerns. So, it wasn't particularly surprising in June when the club selected Merritt Island (Fla.) High right-hander Mason Denaburg in the first round (No. 27 overall).

Though a biceps issue wiped out much of his senior year, Denaburg had flashed electric stuff earlier in the spring when healthy in a 97-mph heater and better feel for two secondaries pitches. As a result, the Nats handled the 19-year-old with extreme care over the summer, opting to withhold him from regular-season game action entirely in favor of a throwing program.

That program has continued for Denaburg in the instructional league, where, for the first time as a pro, he's taking the mound with a hitter in the box. And while looks have been limited, the club is nonetheless excited about what it has seen so far from the 6-foot-4, 195-pound righty.

"Mason has made a great first impression here in camp," said Scialabba.

"He threw a sim game the other day and is scheduled to pitch in games later this week. He's strong, healthy and getting his feet wet. He's been a sponge here so far ... getting to slowly build a foundation for his future."

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.