Nationals Promote Wilmer Difo for Some Reason

A few weeks ago, the Padres promoted one of their best remaining prospects, Austin Hedges, to join the Major League club to serve as Derek Norris‘ backup. It was a bit of an odd move, given that Hedges might have just been figuring out how to hit professional pitching, but the Padres wanted to upgrade their roster and saw more short-term value in having Hedges catch a couple of times per week in the big leagues.

Well, apparently, the Washington Nationals are going to try a similar trick, as Ken Rosenthal reports that the team is promoting infield prospect Wilmer Difo, with outfielder Jayson Werth potentially heading to the DL.

Difo spent all of last year in low-A ball, started this year in high-A, and was promoted to Double-A a few weeks ago. He’s consistently hit well, showing both contact and some power, but he has a grand total of 33 games above low-A ball in his career — even though he just turned 23 — so to say it’s been a quick rise would be an understatement. But now the question is what the Nationals are going to do with him?

Shortstop is blocked by Ian Desmond, who while struggling at the moment remains one of the best players at the position in the game. Yunel Escobar has hit well while playing both second and third base, but has primarily settled in at third in Anthony Rendon’s absence, leaving second base to Danny Espinosa, who is also hitting far better this year than he has in prior years. Neither Escobar nor Espinosa need replacing, so Difo is apparently coming up to serve as a utility infielder until Rendon returns, at which point the team won’t even need him in that role.

Difo is an interesting player, and could potentially be a starter for the Nationals as soon as next year, but he doesn’t have a clear role on the 2015 Nationals, and having him sit on the bench in the big leagues isn’t going to help speed up his development. I’m not entirely sure why promoting a prospect to sit on the bench is becoming a trend, but it probably shouldn’t be. In the end, this likely won’t matter much at all, but it’s a little weird to see another prospect promoted at a time when the big league team doesn’t need him to actually play.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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8 years ago

I can’t explain Difo, but think the explanation given in the article for Hedges is a bit of an oversimplification. I’ve read from several sources that the Padres was to get Hedges used to catching in a major league environment – and get the pitchers used to him – with the idea of easing him into an eventual starting role later this year (if Norris is traded) or next April. Now I wouldn’t do this if I were the Team Dictator, but the Friars’ rationale seems more nuanced than the “Padres trying to maximize short-term value” headline that Dave has been using.