The value of the Nationals having a Gulf Coast League team shows itself each spring when many of the young stars move up to take spots at low Single-A Hagerstown or more likely at short-season Single-A Auburn.
Looking down the list of GCL Nationals offensively, several position players put up good offensive numbers as they gained crucial professional experience in the rookie league.
Second baseman Matt Foat hit .333 in 43 games, with six doubles, one triple, one homer and 20 RBIs. GCL Nationals and current Hagerstown manager Tripp Keister could see a few of the guys he had last year in low Single-A this season, including the former USC Trojan Foat.
“Matt Foat had a tremendous year for us. He put up some numbers offensively,” Keister said. “He kind of moved around position-wise as we looked for a spot for him.”
They found places for Foat to play, including some time at first base. Also at the corner bag was Bryan Lippincott. In 43 games, Lippincott hit .281 with 11 doubles, one triple and 18 RBIs.
Keister liked the work ethic, defense and game directorship of 19-year old catcher Pedro Severino. He realized early how hard Severino was working to get better and make his team.
“As the extended spring and summer wore on position player-wise, I was excited at the growth of the catcher Pedro Severino,” Keister said. “Defensively, he did a real fantastic job all summer. He was calm in handling the pitching staff playing in the heat. We played those 12 o’clock games down there. I tried to really give him some days off because he played so hard.
“There would be times I would pat him on the back and he would be soaking wet. I know he was given me everything he had. I saw him getting better over the course of the summer. I am really looking forward to watching him grow and develop. He is definitely one.”
Shortstop Wilmer Difo hit .263 with a team-high 19 stolen bases and 13 RBIs in 54 games.
“Seeing Wilmer Difo keep plugging and mature was a good part of the summer,” Keister said.
James Brooks played 28 games at hit .273. Hunter Bailey played 26 games and hit .247.
Diomedes Eusebio was at third base, hitting .277 in 43 games with 11 doubles, two triples and 18 RBIs. Also listed at third base was Jean Carlos Valdez, who hit .224 in 44 games with nine doubles and 14 RBIs.
Also, Will Piwnica-Worms logged 46 games, Narciso Mesa 32 and Tony Nix 38 in the outfield.
Youngster Hayden Jennings played in 47 games and made just one error in the outfield. Keister liked what he saw with Jennings in gaining valuable experience.
“Hayden Jennings, a high school kid who was drafted last year, trying to get him up to the Gulf Coast League,” Keister said. “Seeing him get used to professional baseball and playing every day, that was a big adjustment for him. I kept working with him.”
Keister could see a few of these guys in Hagerstown this spring, and he was pleased with the progress the young team was able to make in a short time.
“I thought we had some kids make tremendous strides,” Keister said. “There are some pretty darn good position players, (but) I am probably missing somebody. You get attached to these kids because you are with them every day. You really root for all of them.”