New Harrisburg Senators manager Matt LeCroy will see some very familiar faces as he takes the helm at Metro Bank Park this spring in his first season as a Double-A skipper.
LeCroy said his team in Potomac persevered when it did not appear to be a formidable offensive threat early on. But behind quality pitching, the team defied a difficult first half, and scraped together hits and rallies in the final month of season to earn a playoff spot.
This experience at Single-A will be a major boost to a Harrisburg team that already has gotten used to a different level of baseball.
"Guys finished strong," LeCroy said. "That is what we preached all through spring training. You want to finish on a good note. The guys had an eye opener at the beginning of the year. They realized how tough the league was and the stuff they needed to do to work on. They all did it themselves.
"They came out and worked early. They did their cage work with hitting coach Mark Harris. Just to see them do what they did at the end of the year to give our club a chance to play for a championship and be a part of the playoffs was awesome."
It is a good possiblity that several of the top players he managed in Woodbridge, Va., last season, such as Destin Hood, Eury Perez, Sammy Solis, Danny Rosenbaum (promoted to Double-A late last season), Jeff Kobernus and others will join LeCroy with the Senators.
Hood was one of several players who had a big 2011 growth season. The outfielder hit .276 with 29 doubles, five triples, 13 homers and 83 RBIs in 128 games. It is a good chance he could be manning the Senators' outfield this season alongside guys like Bryce Harper. LeCroy said Hood has made headlines because of his work on the field.
"Over the last two years that I have had him, (Hood) has probably made the biggest improvement of anybody that I have ever had, not only hitting wise but defensively," LeCroy said. "He became a really good base runner. His worked ethic has drastically changed. He comes to the park with a different attitude. He is really maturing as a player.
"That Carolina League is a really tough league and to see what he did in the amount of games he played and the professionalism that he brought every day that is what our job is all about to see that. Hopefully, the sky is the limit for him. He has got a good, short stroke. The more he continues to play, the better he is going to get."
There were many pitchers that stood out. Two of the top hurlers included Solis and Rosenbaum. There has been concern recently about Solis' elbow, but if pitchers like these two can stay healthy, they could be the organization's next Brad Peacocks or Tommy Milones, guys who matured as pitchers on the proving grounds of Double-A.
"Sammy and Danny are two guys that I know we think a lot of and you just hope, as with any player, that they can stay healthy because they are both big and strong and they throw a lot of strikes," LeCroy said.
LeCroy is confident that he will have second baseman Kobernus with him in Harrisburg. Kobernus hit .282 with 22 doubles, four triples, seven homers, stole 53 bases and had 52 RBIs.
"Jeff was an unbelievable baserunner," LeCroy said. "He is real fast. He knows how to read pitchers. The thing about him is he improved so much on his defense from the first year that we had him. Plus, he stayed healthy and played in 120 or so games, which is awesome for him. He is so athletic that he can do a lot of things: offensively, defensively and on the bases.
"He is just like Hood. The more games he plays, the better he is going to get. I really enjoyed him. I am looking forward to the challenge for him in Double-A because you preach to these guys that when they get to this level they are pretty close. Hopefully, these guys can refine everything and get a chance to play in the big leagues."
Dominican outfielder Perez was placed on the Nationals' 40-man roster after hitting .283 with 41 RBIs and 45 stolen bases for Potomac. LeCroy said Perez had some growing pains but there is no doubt about his capabilities.
"I saw a guy who matured and came to play every day," LeCroy said. "He had some ups and downs. But by the end of the year, he ended up having a pretty solid season. He has learned more English which is helping him communicate with his teammates and communicate with the outfielders. He is a young kid who can fly and he has a big league tool in his running ability."
It is likely that some of these players, if not all, and others not mentioned from Potomac, will be on LeCroy's roster in Harrisburg and he said that is a good thing for the system's overall health.
"I had the youngest team in the organization last year (at Potomac)," LeCroy said. "That is always a good sign for that club to be young like that. I am looking forward to the opportunity now (with Harrisburg)."