Nationals vice president of player development Doug Harris recently returned from a trip to the team's baseball academy in the Dominican Republic.
He again had positive things to say about the progress of the academy. Nationals fans will begin to see a steady influx of players from the Dominican in the next few seasons. Every one of them started at this academy.
The academy is run by Fausto Severino, who is their academy administrator. Severino keeps the academy running on a daily basis, and is involved in scouting and taking care of physicals and medical issues to get the players ready to play.
"He is an integral part of what we are doing in the Dominican," Harris said. "Fausto lives there and is responsible for the day-to-day workings of the academy."
Harris said Nationals director of international scouting Johnny DiPuglia oversees everything to do with helping to find players in such places as the Dominican. Rookie-level Dominican Summer League manager Sandy Martinez and pitching coach Pablo Frias also play major roles.
Nationals pitching coordinator Spin Williams told me recently that the prospects that are arriving at the academy now are physically bigger kids, more developed baseball-wise than the players that they might have gotten a few years back when they started the academy.
"We are younger, more athletic and more physical," Harris agreed. "That starts with Johnny (DiPuglia) and carries over to the work we are doing in the academy, the nutrition, the weight training."
The number of players can vary from week to week, but usually would be around the same number you would see on a baseball team, numbering a couple dozen.
"It is a fluid number," Harris said. "Down there, you will have your own players and you will have some guys from your instructional league that are there for a period of time that leave and some other guys come in because we are trying to accomplish certain things.
"One thing you have is you have tryout players, which is consistent with every academy. These tryout players are in the academy for a certain amount of time, so the actual number in house is fluid day-to-day."
Harris said the players are pretty even split between pitchers and position players, mirroring what the organization would do in the states, say with the rookie-level Gulf Coast Nationals or the low Single-A Hagerstown Suns.
"It is a young group that is down there right now," Harris said. "A lot of guys that were signed July 2 of this year that are getting their first taste of professional baseball. You will have some first-year players in the Dominican who are trying to accomplish certain things. We also bring in some veteran guys from time to time."
Sixteen-year-old third baseman Anderson Franco got his first taste of pro baseball at the instructional league and is an example of one of the players that would be working out at the Dominican academy.
Harris also said they are impressed with another teenager, 16-year-old center fielder Victor Robles.
"Another guy that has really stood out is Victor Robles," Harris said. "We signed him this year. He is a center fielder. He is really exciting young player. He is really athletic. He can run, he can throw, he can go get the baseball. He has really good bat speed. He has some strength for his size."
Harris said the Nationals will bring a group of Dominican players from last year's Dominican Summer League to extended spring training.
"Their spring training will start around mid-April and it runs to June. Then they start their regular season," he said.
One pitcher who did well for the Gulf Coast Nationals and could move up this season is 22-year-old right-hander Wander Suero. Harris said Suero will "compete for a job" this season in Hagerstown.
Suero, from Sabana Larga, D.R., went 8-1 with a 1.65 ERA in 13 games for the Gulf Coast Nationals, striking out 46 batters in 49 innings.