Nationals prospects are busy from the early morning hours this week as they get ready to take on the Atlanta Braves in game one of the instructional league schedule on Thursday.
Nationals hitting instructor Rick Schu says they are in the batting cage at 7:00 a.m. every morning. They then get on the field to work on defensive drills. The guys have workouts with individual coaches based on pre-camp evaluations of each players' specific areas of need.
"These players are special guys. These are the kind of kids that go the extra mile and love to work. We have a great staff down here headed by field coordinator Bobby Henley. He gets the most out of every player. The guys are fired up as soon as they hear him speak in the morning. It is really exciting. It is high energy. It is a lot of fun and they get a lot of work done," Schu said.
The work the players go through this month is what every major leaguer has gone through on their road to the bigs.
In 2010 the Nationals minor league system went a combined 384-381 (.502), the third consecutive year the franchise has finished with a winning record for all its affiliates.
Schu says success by minor league teams bodes well for the future because the team is building a winning attitude.
"I think a big part of development is understanding how to win championships with all the added pressures of going through a full season," Schu said.
"This definitely is something that develops winners. We want winners. We had four teams with a chance at the playoffs and we had two league batting champions. We had two MVPs. It was just a great year in the minor leagues just to have these guys battling 'til the end and getting the chance to make the playoffs."
Schu says the organization was impressed with the P-Nats' run to the Mills Cup trophy.
"With Potomac coming through and winning it is pretty special. Especially with the P-Nats losing guys like Stephen Lombardozzi, Michael Burgess, Adrian Alaniz, Dan Leatherman, Brad Peacock and others, guys stepped it up. Bill Rhinehart had a great year, Tyler Moore was carrying that team with all the home runs and RBIs that he had. It was a great year all the way around for the organization."
Schu says he sees a similar pattern with the Nats minor league success as he saw in his 12 years in Arizona.
The Diamondbacks started off slowly in their player development, but with Mike Rizzo as scouting director they began getting better athletes and developing young talent all the way through the minor league system.
"Arizona was able to get a core group of major leaguers out of those first few years and I see the Nationals doing the same thing," Schu said. "This draft was outstanding. Our scouts and player development guys are doing an amazing job."