With spring training just two weeks away, future prospects in the Nationals’ system are getting ready to showcase their talents for the team’s top brass in Florida.
Nationals director of player development Doug Harris attended the Potomac Nationals Hot Stove Banquet on Sunday night in Springfield, Va., and shared some insight as to who might be with the big club as the team heads back to D.C. in late March.
Harris believes the franchise has built depth that will help the Nationals get better this year and in the very near future.
“We are excited about it,” Harris said. “We feel like we have two very strong waves at the lower levels, mixed in with higher-end prospects at the upper levels. We know who we are. We know where we are. We feel good about the progress we are making.”
Harris said it was nice for the organization to watch the Scottsdale Scorpions, a team with a half-dozen Nationals prospects, go out and win the Arizona Fall League
“It is very important, not only in that setting, but as we build in the minor leagues,” Harris said. “Winning is important for us. We are trying to develop a winning culture and it starts in the minor leagues.”
One of those players in that league was catcher Derek Norris. Is he ready to make a move to Double-A Harrisburg and beyond?
“I would really anticipate it,” Harris said. “I think Derek made significant strides, particularly defensively, in the fall league. He has taken ownership and pride in that part of his game. He is a very gifted offensive player which was ahead of his defense. That is kind if backwards for most catchers. At this point, we are really excited about 2011 and his opportunity.”
Reliever Cole Kimball also appears to have made big steps to taking it to the next level. Harris believes he will get an opportunity to challenge for a spot with the big club out of spring training.
“I think we are really going to kick the tires on that,” Harris said. “He has back end of the bullpen type stuff, back end of the bullpen makeup. Obviously, having an opportunity to participate in the fall league was great experience for him. I would anticipate we will run him out there and let him learn the big leagues a little bit in spring training and get that out of the way. His repertoire is back of the bullpen stuff which is a big piece of what we are looking for.”
The Nationals have fortified their minor leagues so that they can not only get better but also be attractive to other major league ball clubs looking for talent.
Trading the likes of Michael Burgess, A.J. Morris and Graham Hicks to the Cubs for Tom Gorzelanny was a clear example of that new strength.Washington is able to absorb that kind of a move because of a better overall franchise depth.
“Without a question,” Harris agreed. “The day we made the deal, I called Kris Kline, our scouting director, and congratulated him. We cannot do that deal without his work and the work of his men. I think when people start to see what we have at the lower levels there will be a lot of interest in those players.”
And where will No. 1 overall selection Bryce Harper start his 2011 season? Harris says he is in a great position because of his performance in Arizona this past fall.
“He had a great fall league,” Harris said. “(Harper) has been very mature beyond his years to this point. We anticipate him starting in Hagerstown. Certainly, nothing is set in stone. It is an opportunity for him to go out in a championship season and be with his peer group and grow from there.”
Is there a temptation to succumb to fans’ demand and accelerate Harper’s advancement to D.C. because of his potential? Harris said the Nationals have a plan in place like they did with their other high-profile top prospect.
“We had a plan with Stephen Strasburg (and) there is a plan with Bryce Harper,” Harris said. “There is more to it than singles, doubles, home runs and assists in the outfield. There is off the field and there is the clubhouse. Those are the parts of the game he has got to grow into and we want him to do that in a comfortable setting.”