Nats continue expansion of player development staff

While numerous outlets are releasing their latest top prospects rankings leading up to the start of spring training, it’s easy to keep track of how the Nationals farm system is improving on paper. But a lot of work needs to continue throughout this rebuild behind the scenes. Improvements under the surface that won’t show up in any prospect rankings.

The Nationals announced on Wednesday their minor league player development staff for the 2023 season. The roster includes some familiar faces, new names and new positions. Overseeing all of it are president of baseball operations and general manager Mike Rizzo, entering this 15th season as the head man, and director of player development De Jon Watson, entering his second season in this position after spending five seasons as a special assistant to the GM.

The familiar names include Matt LeCroy (Triple-A Rochester), Mario Lisson (High-A Wilmington) and Jake Lowery (Single-A Fredericksburg) returning to manage their respective affiliates. Field coordinator Bob Henley, pitching coordinator Sam Narron and catching coordinator Randy Knorr continue their long careers with the organization. And fan favorite Gerardo Parra enters his first full season as special assistant to Rizzo after being named to the position last year.

A lot of new names are taking over the staff at Double-A Harrisburg, headlined by manager Delino DeShields replacing Tripp Keister, who was fired this offseason after 11 years with the organization. A first-round pick by the Expos in the 1987 draft, DeShields joins the Nats after spending the last 14 seasons in various roles in the Reds organization. Joel Hanrahan also joins Harrisburg as the pitching coach after flipping spots with Justin Lord, who now holds the same position at Fredericksburg.

Among the new roles added to the player development department this year are an assistant director of player development technology and strategy (Patrick Coghlan), a player development analyst (Allen Ho), a senior biomechanist (Bill Johnson), a biomechanist (Brittany Mills) and a performance analyst at each minor league affiliate. The performance analysts will help use data from the Hawk-Eye machines tracking players at Nationals Park, all of the organization's minor league stadiums and their facility in West Palm Beach.

This is the latest wave of additions to the Nationals’ player development staff after the front office made it a priority to overhaul the entire department last offseason to fully embrace this rebuild. Last year, the Nats hired Dave Jauss as the senior advisor of player development and David Longly as director of player development technology and strategy to work under Watson. They also added developmental coaches to each affiliate throughout the system and added lower-level hitting and pitching coordinators, a quality control coordinator, an athletic trainer, a mental skills coordinator and a nutritionist.

Thanks to the blockbuster trades of Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, Juan Soto and Josh Bell, the draft and the international signing period over the last two seasons, the Nationals farm system has improved dramatically as the club works to put together another competitive team at the major league level as quickly as possible.

Robert Hassell III, James Wood and Jarlin Susana (trade), Elijah Green and Brady House (draft), and Cristhian Vaquero (international signing) are all thought of as top prospects throughout the industry. But only Hassell has played above Single-A, meaning that while the Nats have restored top talent to their farm system, most of it is in the lower levels of the minor leagues and a couple of years away from reaching the majors.

With this already established group of prospects, a new international signing class from last month, the No. 2 overall pick in July’s draft and another looming trade deadline, this expanded minor league staff will be in charge of developing a lot of high-profile young talent.

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