Stevenson continues to hunt baseballs, move up Nats chain

Nationals prospect Andrew Stevenson finished off an impressive 2016 season by playing 21 games in the Arizona Fall League.

Stevenson’s big highlight was a 5-for-6 game against Peoria in November. In the 15-3 Glendale win, Stevenson hit a solo homer, had two RBIs and scored three runs. The 22-year-old ended up hitting .353 with four doubles, two triples, two homers, 12 RBIs and nine stolen bases.

The center fielder’s AFL play wrapped a season in which he was promoted to Double-A Harrisburg for the first time.

“It was definitely a fun year, a great experience,” Stevenson said. “I played a lot of baseball, played against good competition. I was excited about having the opportunity to move up. I did pretty good with what I was given. We will see what happens.”

While in Arizona, Stevenson spent some time with his manager, Aaron Rowand, a former major league outfielder, and asked about his playing days in the big leagues. Rowand played 11 years in the majors with the Phillies, White Sox and Giants. He made the All-Star Game and was a Gold Glove winner in 2007.

“I was able to pick his brain about things because he had such a good career,” Stevenson said. “You might as well use him and get all the knowledge out of him you can. He would talk about the day-to-day grind - how to take care of yourself and how to really get yourself into that routine that will help you out every day.”

Stevenson-Swings-Senators-Sidebar.jpgStevenson hit .304 with high Single-A Potomac and .246 with Harrisburg. He ended up with 23 doubles, 10 triples, three homers and 34 RBIs.

The LSU product said he focused on keeping his approach simple and workmanlike. His on-base percentage was .332.

“My approach is just get up there (and) whatever they’re going to give me, take it,” Stevenson said. “Not going to try to do too much up there. I’m not going to try to do too much up there. If I get thrown away, I am going to try to hit something over the shortstop, and if they come in, I’ll try to drive something into the gap. That’s something I’m trying to get more consistent with and I’m feeling like I’m doing a decent job of that. I’m going to try to continue off that and see what happens this year.”

Stevenson practically split games between the P-Nats (68 games) and the Senators (65). He said facing Double-A pitchers was certainly a big step up from what he saw in the Carolina League.

“The guys are more experienced,” Stevenson said. “You can tell. The pitch calling behind the plate was definitely more advanced. The pitchers had that ability to be able to put it where they wanted to more times than they couldn’t. That was the big thing. You never really knew what you were going to get. All the pitchers had the ability to put whatever pitch they wanted in there at any time. It’s a little bit different game once you get up there but I started to adjust to it.”

Stevenson also said the nuts and bolts of his swing mechanics have not been altered too much as he progresses up the ladder, except for one minor change.

“Just where I start my hands,” Stevenson said. “That’s the only part. At LSU, they were a little bit lower, kind of closer to my body. Now I put them a little farther up and a little out. Swing-wise, it’s not too much different. It’s more the hand path and where to start it.”

Stevenson’s hitting wasn’t the only part of his game he excelled at in 2016. He also worked on his speed game and ended up with 39 stolen bases. He said it’s a part of his game he has looked to take advantage of since his SEC days. His running game continues to be a focus for the upcoming campaign, as well.

“My junior year (at LSU), our hitting coordinator (and now current Mississippi State head coach), Andy Cannizaro, got with me and kind of really tried to start being more aggressive,” Stevenson said. “Know your opportunities and try to get better jumps coming out of the box.

“That is something that all the coordinators are trying to work with me right now. (Nationals outfield coordinator) Gary Thurman works with me doing base stealing during spring training and whenever he comes (to Potomac or Harrisburg). He wants to see me try to steal some bags. That’s part of my game: stealing bases. That’s something I definitely want to work on and improve.”

Defense is also an asset Stevenson and the Nationals staff has looked to build on. From deep center field, he has worked on making longer and more accurate throws.

“It was more so mechanics, trying to get the most carry out of my throws,” Stevenson said. “It’s something we worked on during spring training and I’m sure we will work more on it when I get back. It’s more just trying to get the most out of my arm right now.”

Stevenson has been training in Baton Rouge, La., all off season with a lot of his former baseball teammates from LSU. They work out in the same facility as the LSU football team.

He said the rigors of the 2016 season taught him that he must have his body in good shape to be ready for the possibility of 140 to 162 games the next season.

“I felt like I had better grasp of how to take care of my body,” Stevenson said. “That’s a lot of games and we’re playing every single day. I was able to understand what needed to be done a little bit better this year. Really getting into that routine of what helps you get ready for each game. I think I had a better understanding of that this year. I’m going to critique that next year to see (how these current workouts) helped me out.”

Stevenson’s weight training mixes all that you would expect: from core and strength training to agility, speed and flexibility workouts.

“I try to build myself back up,” Stevenson said. “The long season just tears you down body-wise. So I try get my weight back up and get back to stronger if not more strength than I had the year before.

Stevenson pointed toward one facet that could help his speed to balls and on the base paths: improving his first move off the blocks.

“I try to work on that first step quickness,” Stevenson said. “That’s something that helps out in baseball - stealing bases, jumps in the outfield. I try to get that. I keep up with my flexibility. Don’t want to have any injuries, hamstring-wise or anything could possibly have prevented in the offseason.

And when he does have some down time in his native Louisiana, he likes to take up one of his favorite hobbies: duck hunting.

“Definitely hunting,” Stevenson said. “Offseason I try to go duck hunting whenever I can. That’s something I like to do. We sit in blind, throw some decoys out and have some fun.”

It normally takes 90 minutes to two hours to get a good hunt in. Stevenson needs to be in place before sunrise. And then when he brings some ducks home,, what’s the best recipe he recommends?

“We throw them in gumbo,” Stevenson said. “Throw them on a pit, wrap them in bacon. There’s a lot of different ways to eat duck.”

Stevenson is currently ranked as the top outfielder in the Nats system with Double-A experience. But he said that accolade is not a focus of his day-to-day work.

“That’s a good feeling, but at the end of the day, you got to take care of what I can control and at the end of the day, that’s not up to me,” Stevenson said. “That’s a decision up top and I’ll try to play the best I can and we will see what happens after that.”

And we have to get that recipe for duck gumbo.

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