Under new manager, expect Triple-A Syracuse to contend for IL crown

Triple-A Syracuse will feature the only manager joining the system after spending last season in another organization. Billy Gardner Jr. comes over from the Tampa Bay Rays after managing the Double-A Montgomery Biscuits.

Director of player development Mark Scialabba said the Nationals are lucky to have a manager such as Gardner joining the organization.

"Billy is going to bring a lot of experience to the upper levels," Scialabba said. "He is a disciplined coach. We are excited to have Billy come from an organization that has a lot of success in player development in Tampa. I think he is going to mesh well.

"He has some history with (new Syracuse pitching coach) Paul Menhart. That will be nice, and Joe Dillon as well as hitting coach. It is going to be a good group and looking forward to see them work together in Syracuse."

Michael Barrett becomes the manager of the Gulf Coast League Nationals. Patrick Anderson moves up to low Single-A Hagerstown. Tripp Keister jumps to high Single-A Potomac while Brian Daubach heads up to Double-A Harrisburg.

The players these managers will work with, along with their coaching staffs, will be the same players they worked with last season and some have been coaching the very same prospects for two or three seasons. Scialabba said that is critically important because no one knows these players' tendencies, nuances and idiosyncrasies like the coaches that worked with them last year.

"There is continuity," Scialabba said. "Players are familiar with the coaching staffs and vice versa. We feel comfortable with our staffs moving up to the higher levels. It is a credit to the system, credit to (assistant general manager, vice president of player development) Doug Harris, (vice president of player personnel) Bob Boone and the coordinators making sure they are comfortable with the staff. Having this continuity is important. It is who we are. We are excited to continue to develop our staff along with our players."

The GCL Nats, Hagerstown, Potomac and Harrisburg all made it to the postseason last year, showing the strength of each of the teams as a unit rather than that of one or two individual prospects. The fact that they were able to play well demonstrates the ability of the coaching staff to get them to succeed as a team.

Winning is not the No. 1 priority of the minor league system, but player development is. However, I expect to see the Syracuse Chiefs make an uptick as a team this season under new manager Gardner and contend for an International League crown, joining the four other affiliates in the postseason. Not to mention, the Chiefs will again be fortified with several Harrisburg players who made it to the Eastern League finals last season.

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