I got an update on a handful of pitchers that are continuing their work at the Nationals accelerated development program in Viera, Fla.
New low Single-A Hagerstown Suns pitching coach Sam Narron, who was the pitching coach for the short-season Single-A Auburn Doubledays last season, updated the current progress of three starting pitchers he worked with: right-handers 19-year-old Lucas Giolito, 23-year-old Jake Johansen and 21-year-old Austin Voth (Voth sounds like "both").
"Voth, Giolito and Johansen, they of course, had really great years last year," Narron said. "They have just continued on. You see the work that they put in in the offseason which always is great to see. They took what they learned from that first season into pro ball and to continue on into the offseason. Those three, in particular, they always jump off the page at you just from sheer stuff."
Narron said the focus is on what you would expect with young prospects, repeating their deliveries and hitting their spots, making sure they can find even-level between all three of their pitches.
"Especially Giolito being young, just two years out of high school, him and Jake both just its consistency," Narron noted. "The aspect of repeating (their delivery) and being able to command a baseball when and where they want. With them having the kind of stuff that they have, they have always been able to just out-stuff people from the word go at their age level. Guys like Giolito throwing upper 90s mph in high school. But at the pro level you are facing guys that are pretty good themselves.
"We want to see them take the next step with that. From what we have seen with them so far, they have been able to do that."
You can't miss Giolito and Johansen. Both are at least 6-foot-6 and 230 lbs. Both attended the Nationals offseason strength and conditioning program. Narron said that conditioning pays dividends at the end of long seasons. They are hoping both will be able to log some innings this year and test their endurance.
"Since they are strong it helps their stuff, but because they are so big they are carrying around a lot of weight," Narron said. "More so than anything they have to be able to continue to do what they do into July, August, September and when they get to the big leagues, hopefully October.
"That is the main thing, that that strength really brings out in them. Everyone is fresh in April and May. But when it starts to get hot, you see who really put in the time in the offseason, got their legs underneath them, got stronger, and when they hit July and August they don't taper off as much, their stuff doesn't fall off, they continue to finish strong. That is where you see the gains in their strength."
Left-hander Ross Detwiler added a cutter as one of his pitches this offseason. But Detwiler is a veteran. Narron said they prefer their young talent to focus on their three main pitches.
"We want them concentrating on working on their fastball command and being able to throw their secondary pitches consistently for strikes," Narron said. "Adding a pitch comes much later on in their careers.
"The hardest thing for guys that tend to throw hard like they do is to develop a changeup. Both of those guys have a good feel for a changeup, which in a lot of cases is rare for that type of pitcher. They are ahead of the game in that aspect.
"The breaking stuff, Giolito has a very good breaking ball. Jake made great strides with his last year coming from college. He made some adjustments on his and took to them very quickly. His breaking ball has shown some great improvement.
"You just want the consistency with the breaking ball, being able to throw it where you want to and have that same shake to it. With the changeup, just being able to throw it in the strike zone with good arm speed and good deception puts them ahead of the game for sure."
Next we will check in on Austin Voth and many other pitchers in the next blog.