New Nationals manager Matt Williams’ coaching staff will remain largely intact.
Only bullpen coach Jim Lett, who began his Nationals tenure under Jim Riggleman and remained on Davey Johnson’s staff after Riggleman resigned, will not return. Lett will be replaced by Matt LeCroy, the former major league catcher who has managed at several levels of the Washington organization, most recently at Double-A Harrisburg.
The return of bench coach Randy Knorr, who had been a candidate for the job that went to Williams, had previously been announced. At Friday’s press conference to introduce Williams, general manager Mike Rizzo announced that third base coach Trent Jewett, first base coach Tony Tarasco, hitting coach Rick Schu and pitching coach Steve McCatty would return to their respective roles.
“I liked the staff we had,” Rizzo explained. “I think they all brought something to the table. There’s a continuity I liked. I think the whole staff right now were at one time elevated to the big leagues from the minor leagues in our organization. That, to me, is important. It’s important for continuity, for consistency. It’s important to show the guys, not only in the big leagues ... but the guys in the minor leagues who are grinding it out every day, that there’s a chance. If you keep grinding it out for this organization, you’ll someday be here in the big leagues and be rewarded.”
While it can be dicey for a new manager, much less a first-time major league skipper, to inherit the majority of his predecessor’s coaching staff, Williams downplayed any potential for awkwardness, especially in the case of Knorr, who flew from his home in Tampa to attend Friday’s press event. Knorr will soon fly to meet Williams in his Arizona home, Williams said, and the pair will begin forging their relationship.
“As far as Randy goes, it can be a very difficult dynamic because Randy’s certainly popular among the players,” Williams said. “We have seen that they have given him their support during this process. I can’t claim to know them or know this team as much as Randy does. So I’m going to lean on him. He’s been kind enough to say, ‘Lean on me.’ ...
“He doesn’t have to be here. In our conversations, he said he did and I trust that and I love that fact. I am going to lean on him heavy. He knows this. He knows the organization, he knows the game, he is a full-blown manager candidate just like all of us, otherwise Mike wouldn’t have interviewed him. He is probably the biggest part of this staff certainly getting to know the players and moving forward for me.”
Williams is making one addition to the staff, bringing in Mark Weidemaier as a seventh coach responsible for defensive positioning based on advanced scouting reports, a job he handled for the Diamondbacks for three seasons, though his official title was special assistant to the general manager and advance scout. Weidemaier has spent 33 years in baseball, including additional tours with the Dodgers, White Sox, Yankees, Angels and Royals in scouting and player development. He’s also managed in the Mexican League and been an assistant coach at Ohio State.
“It was Matt’s idea to bring (Weidemaier) over, but his idea went over very well and very easily with me,” Rizzo said. “He’s referred to as the seventh coach. He’ll be in uniform, around the team, in the dugout, hitting fungos and BP, in the dugout during the games and really be the guy who positions the defenders and to do other things. But his primary responsibility will be defensive alignments and taking all the advanced information from our advance scouts in the field and our two advance video scouts with the team. He’ll take that information and filter it and distribute it to the various coaches that need the information.”
Williams intends to emphasize defense and said the addition of Weidemaier will help to fine-tune how the Nationals perform in the field.
“I believe that’s very important,” Williams said. “I believe that preparation is the most important part of this game.”
Rizzo is no stranger to Weidemaier, given his background in scouting and player development.
“One of the things (Williams) feels is very important is defensive alignment and advanced sabermetrics and this is a guy he feels brings a lot to the table,” Rizzo said. “I’ve known him myself for 25 years, worked against him many times as an advance scout, and he’ll be great addition to the team.”
The 37-year-old LeCroy has managed for five seasons in the Washington farm system, piloting low Single-A Hagerstown (2009-10) high Single-A Potomac (2011) and Harrisburg (2012-13). His 2013 Senators went 77-65 and won the Eastern League’s Western Division before losing to Trenton in the finals. He played eight seasons in the majors - 2000-05 and 2007 with the Twins and 2008 with the Nationals - and finished his career with 60 homers, 218 RBIs and a .260 average. This will be his first major league coaching assignment.
LeCroy’s ascension to the major league staff creates an opening for a manager at Double-A. Rizzo said he would soon begin finalizing the organization’s minor league staffing. That process should be complete by Thanksgiving, a team source has confirmed.