I got the chance to catch up with high Single-A Fredericksburg Nationals manager Tripp Keister recently and he broke down thoughts on the coronavirus shutdown, their new stadium opening and his potential roster for 2020.
This will be Keister’s ninth season coaching in the Nationals organization, and he desperately wants to get back to baseball and get a chance to see their brand-new stadium open in Fredericksburg, which was supposed to take place April 23. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has put all baseball plans on hold.
But like all Nats fans, that has not lessened Keister’s enthusiasm for the new digs. He said the new stadium is crucial for his players and their potential.
“It does help in your development with a big weight room right there, place to eat right there and two covered batting cages,” Keister said.
His coaching staff consists of hitting coach Luis Ordaz and pitching coach Justin Lord. Ordaz, a former major league infielder with the Cardinals, Royals and Devil Rays, has been coaching in the Nats system for 10 seasons. Lord comes over after many years in the Orioles organization. Keister recommended the Nats take a look at Lord after the Orioles released him from his contract at the end of the 2019 season.
“I’m glad that all came about,” Keister said. I got to know Justin and (former Frederick manager) Ryan Minor just from competing against them. There is a healthy respect (in this league). We are all after the same thing, helping kids get better, get them to the big leagues, coaching. Obviously, we want to win. There is a lot of competitiveness that happens, but I have respect for the group that is on the other side. I got to know Justin just from competing against him. When I was in Hagerstown he was in Delmarva and then in Frederick the last couple of years. I got the chance to talk to him and know what he’s about.
“He got the idea that he may be let go. I had made a comment to our people that he’d be a great fit for us. It just kind of worked out. I was looking forward to working with him, still am. Obviously, (current Double-A Harrisburg pitching coach) Sam (Narron) and I worked together for a couple of years, he got promoted, a well-deserved promotion.”
Lord spoke to me last month about how important the mental side of pitching is in his teachings of prospects, and that’s something he had planned to emphasize with the Nats youngsters. Keister said that psychology is very important in the development of pitchers.
“What people fail to realize sometimes is until you face adversity, you really don’t know how to respond,” Keister said. “You are going to face adversity at a level, if not every level. So how you fight through that gives you the tools to be able to fight through that when it happens again, whether it’s in the big leagues or wherever it is.
“Not only are you giving them the physical skills to fight through the adversity and to adjust, but you have to give them the mental skills as well. That is a big part because when you get to the big leagues and you have adversity, how are you going to get out of it? If you have never had adversity at any level and you don’t know how to get out of it, that’s not good.”
We reviewed how spring training was going while it was still in session in February and early March. Keister said he worked with a lot of the pitchers he had last season in instructional league and then most recently at spring training in West Palm Beach.
The minor leaguers had an early minor league camp that ran concurrently with the major league camp, consisting of approximately 50 or 60 guys, mostly pitchers getting lengthened out because they were going to be starters during the season. That is, until the shutdown changed all those plans.
“We had the remaining pitchers and catchers and the position players,” Keister said.” We had had full camp for one day and the next day they brought us in and they sent us home. I got to see that younger group of pitchers, which is very exciting.”
I asked about Venezuelan right-hander Andry Lara and Dominican right-hander Eddy Yean, both teenagers and both ranked in the top six Nats prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com. Keister liked what he saw from the pair in camp and had notes on a few of the other prospects he got eyes on.
“I’ve seen them in instructional league and I watched them throw a little bit,” Keister said. “I was on their field for one game. They are impressive. They are exciting. Two guys like that - and not just them - but guys like right-handers Jackson Rutledge, Jake Irvin and Tyler Dyson, and left-handers Matt Cronin and Seth Romero. All those guys. That group needs to pitch. That’s the part of the minor leagues not having their season (that hurts the most), those guys need to get innings and pitch.”
We will break down the rest of potential roster with Keister, including southpaw Tim Cate, in the next few updates.