High Single-A Potomac Nationals manager Brian Daubach recently completed winter ball as the hitting coach for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Republic. Daubach worked with 30 hitters from several teams, including Nationals outfielder Eury Perez.
Daubach said their is nothing like baseball in the Dominican. He said the way the fans get into the games, being right on top of the action, reacting to every pitch and every swing, makes it feel like every game is a must-win.
"It is pretty intense to say the least," Daubach said. "It is close to the big league atmosphere, where fans are on edge for every pitch. It is kind of like a playoff atmosphere in the regular season. You might pitch just one out. I know it helped me quite a bit. It helped me in the big leagues because I had already been through it in the Dominican."
Perez was called up to the Nationals in September and then continued to play into the winter for Leones del Escogido. Daubach said the extra games really aided Perez, who hit .290 in his final 10 games in the Dominican this season.
"I think it helps him," Daubach said. "I know his first year down there, he was Rookie of the Year, which is a huge step up to play at that level. I think that has carried over. Last year, his team won the Dominican. Eury had another outstanding 2012. Hopefully that can carry over for him this year again."
Daubach managed Nationals minor league Player of the Year Matt Skole at low Single-A Hagerstown last season, and saw marked improvement for the young power hitter.
Skole played first base in the Arizona Fall League, after manning third base for the Suns. Daubach said that will only help Skole's resume as he approaches the majors.
"That versatility doesn't hurt," Daubach said. "When you are limited to one position, it is harder to get to the big leagues. I thought he played third really well for us and I heard he did a good job at first in the fall league. That can only help. I think the other thing that really helps him is his plate discipline. He takes a lot of walks. He lays off a lot of pitches. I know his strikeout out total is a little high. That will change with his improved plate discipline."
Skole's numbers of 27 homers and 92 RBIs were jaw dropping for the Suns, and earned him a promotion to Potomac. Daubach doesn't know where Skole will start this season just yet, but he knows that the power prospect can excel offensively and on defense.
"He can hit, there is no doubt," Daubach said. "I think he can play in the infield, too. He put in a lot of work this year. You could see improvement daily. When he stays in the middle of the field and trusts his swing, you really see the results and that is when he is a tough out."
Daubach also liked what he saw from outfielder Billy Burns, who showed off his speed while switch-hitting for the first time with the Suns. The center fielder from Mercer, Ga., came on strong at the end of the season, finishing at .322 with 14 doubles, five triples, 41 RBIs and 38 stolen bases in 113 games. He was caught stealing just nine times, for an 81 percent success rate.
Burns was also second in the South Atlantic League in on-base percentage (.432), behind teammate Skole (.438).
"He is really a guy that knows the game, has the game plan and never really strays from that game plan," Daubach said. "He is pretty young in his first full season of pro ball. Hopefully, he can get a little bit stronger. Rarely does a guy know who they are at a young level and Billy does that. It will be interesting to see what happens with him this year."