I always appreciate the time catching up with coaches and managers in the Nationals system. This week, I grabbed a few minutes with low Single-A Hagerstown manager Patrick Anderson, who is coaching and managing in the West Palm Beach facility with the Nationals prospects.
Anderson said he has been impressed with how the young players have arrived in shape and appear stronger after offseason work.
“As a whole, it’s not really one guy or two guys,” Anderson said. “All of them have come back stronger and they are full of energy and life. Obviously, having this nice, brand-new complex has really jump-started some of these guys. They’re really excited about the atmosphere and it’s really a lot of fun seeing guys bounce around in a new facility.”
One improved element from last season in Viera, Fla., is how close the major and minor league fields are allowing for easier transfer of players each day. Big leaguers come down to the minor league field to hit, throw and play defense. Then it was the minor league players opportunity to swing.
“It was good. A lot of energy,” Anderson said. “Pretty much everyone swinging the bat really well. (Victor) Robles and (Juan) Soto swinging well. Carter Kieboom getting after it pretty good. These guys have gotten themselves in pretty good shape and a lot of the guys from last year’s draft are looking really good. They are feeling pretty much revitalized after a long college season (last year) and now a full offseason. They are really excited about their first spring training.”
Many fans talk about Dominican Republic natives Robles and Soto in the same category because they are talented, up-and-coming outfielders. Robles is a 19-year-old right-handed hitting center fielder. Soto is a lefty-hitting 18-year-old right fielder. I asked Anderson about how the duo looks in camp this spring.
“Robles has got plus speed,” Anderson said. “Soto is from the left-hand side and he swings, he’s got some pop as well. He handles the strike zone really, really well. They are just different players.
“Soto has a mature approach for such a young kid, to where Robles is super aggressive and Soto has a little bit more of a patience to him. Both of them are very talented, needless to say.”
One high school draft pick that is growing up before the coaches’ eyes is Arizona native 20-year-old Blake Perkins. The 2015 second-round selection hit .230 in 63 games at short-season Single-A Auburn and Hagerstown last season.
“He has put on 10 or 11 pounds, if not more, of pure strength,” Anderson said. “He looks really, really good. Getting going from the left side, swinging it. Obviously, he is a switch-hitter. He looks a lot stronger and more confident.
“It’s fun to watch him and some other guys who have the raw tools. They are really fun to watch running-wise, you’ve got some speed here. (Armond) Upshaw and (Daniel) Johnson, those kids can really fly. They can move.”
The 20-year-old center fielder Upshaw out of Pensacola Junior College was a 2016 11th-round selection. He is from Newnan, Georgia, and played in 13 games last season for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Nationals, hitting .325. One tool that stands out, and is a difference maker in pretty much any sport: Upshaw has speed. It’s an asset on defense in the outfield and certainly an asset on the basepaths to create havoc behind an opposing pitcher.
“He’s really raw, he’s got some bat speed,” Anderson relayed. “He can flat out fly. He really can. (Standing on first) and a routine ground ball to second base or a routine ground ball to shortstop, he beat the ball to second. Our second baseman made a nice play on it, so it was pure speed. He can change the game with that speed. He’s just got to get some experience playing the game. Get some games under his belt.”