The Nationals were faced with a major decision in their system this offseason when Harrisburg Senators pitching coach Randy Tomlin stepped down from his post.
The Nats had already had to adjust to the promotion of Randy Knorr from Triple-A Syracuse manager to bench coach with the Nationals. Tony Beasley was elevated from Double-A Harrisburg to Syracuse to replace Knorr.
At Harrisburg, the Nationals moved quickly and promoted Paul Menhart from Single-A Potomac to pitching coach with the Senators before they even had announced a manager for the Double-A squad.
And with good reason.
Tomlin had done a critical job as pitching coach in Harrisburg, teaching and coaching the top prospects in the Nationals’ system. Meanwhile, at Potomac, Menhart had done an equally exemplary job with the Nationals’ young pitching talent, coaching the likes of Sammy Solis and Brad Peacock. Menhart was Stephen Strasburg’s first pitching coach - in the Arizona Fall League.
The right-handed Peacock, a 41st-round selection who was recently packaged in a trade to the Oakland Athletics, was transformed from a thrower who had just started to pitch with limited experience in high school to the highest-rated prospect in the system. Peacock said the biggest reason for how good a pitcher he is today is the coaching of Menhart.
“Paul is the one that helped me out big time,” Peacock said. “He pretty much taught me everything I know (about pitching). I only threw eight innings in high school and I threw like 50 some innings in junior college. Then I signed and got with Paul. He grabbed me and taught me everything.”
Peacock said the fact that Menhart pitched in the big leagues for Toronto in1995, Seattle in 1996 and San Diego in 1997, and had been a coach for several seasons, was integral to how quickly he was able to learn about how to be a good pitcher. Peacock felt the results instantly.
“(Menhart) started working with me and I got better and better every year,” Peacock said. “He helped me out tremendously with everything. He will start yelling at you, ‘Why are you doing that?’ Paul will set you straight when you get off track.”
Peacock said Menhart’s teaching technique involved a hands-on approach and because Menhart had pitched at the game’s highest level, he showed Peacock how to grip the ball, throwing motion and proper mechanics.
“He will show you the (technique) of pitching because I am terrible with someone just describing something to me and doing it,” Peacock said. “(Menhart) showed me everything and I pretty much followed throughout my career. He will make you work. I always wanted to work with Paul. He was my favorite coach out there.
“I worked with Paul pretty much every season besides this last one and we have always had a good pitching staff. He was our coach (that whole time).”
Just like players are destined for promotion when they have talent and can deliver on the field, coaches like Menhart are destined to move up, Peacock said.
“Paul is a great fit (at Double-A),” Peacock said. “I hope Paul gets a chance to go up to the big leagues again and coach there. I feel like he deserves it. He is just an awesome coach. He is fun to be around.”
Tomlin will be welcomed back to the organization when and if he wants to return to coaching. But the Nationals and their best young pitching prospects are in good hands with Menhart coaching them up at the Double-A level.