Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo teased the fact that there was more good news to come from the Nats' minor league system when he discussed the organizational success stories at every level this season during his weekly appearance on 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Grant and Danny Show on Wednesday afternoon.
In the last week, the Nationals have seen 25-year-old outfielder Steven Souza, who debuted in the majors this season, named the Triple-A International League's MVP and Rookie of the Year, while 23-year-old outfielder Michael Taylor, who debuted with the Nats as well, was named the Double-A Eastern League's Rookie of the Year.
Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs' manager Billy Gardner, Jr., in his first season with the Nationals' organization, was named the International League's Manager of the Year for guiding the Nats' top affiliate, "... to the best record in the International League and... the verge of their first postseason since 1998," as Syracuse.com's Lindsay Kramer wrote this week.
Both Souza and Taylor, for a short time before he was called up and now that he's back down, have worked with Gardner at Triple-A this season.
Taylor has put up a combined .312/.398/.537 line with 20 doubles, 22 HRs and 35 stolen bases in 105 games (98 at Double-A) and 472 plate appearances in a breakout season.
Between three trips to the majors, Souza, who is currently on a DL stint, has put up a .355/.436/.602 line with 24 doubles and 18 HRs in 92 games and 390 PAs at Triple-A in his third consecutive "breakout" campaign.
"Souza is a big physical toolsy player who finally figured it out at the tender age of 25," Rizzo said Wednesday. "He's a great success story for our player development, a kid who came in and when we drafted him was a raw skilled player that had to hone his skills, had to learn his craft, the every day-ness of the professional game and had to learn the game on the field and off the field. He went through some trials and tribulations in both and came out the other side."
Souza's hardly the only success story in a summer that's seen top prospects like Taylor, Lucas Giolito and A.J. Cole all make big strides in their development.
"You look at this season, it's an unbelieveable success story in our minor leagues this year," Rizzo said.
"It's the greatest minor league season that we've ever had with the Washington Nationals as far as quality performances, as far as getting players better, as far teams learning the winning ways, the National way, and learning how to win."
"Of our top four minor league affiliates, knock on wood, I believe three of the four are going to make the playoffs," Rizzo continued.
"We've got an MVP and a Rookie of the Year in Triple-A Syracuse and a Manager of the Year in Syracuse.
"We've got the Rookie of the Year, Michael Taylor, in Double-A. You're going to see in the next day or so the news of some MVPs at the A-ball levels. So, we've got teams in the playoffs, we've got players that are being judged as top prospects and Most Valuable Players at each and every level. The minor league system is fertile and full of good players that are going to affect this roster positively in the next couple years, and as we always say, the next wave is looking good and each wave looks better and better than the wave before."
This morning, the Nationals announced that 2012 1st Round pick Lucas Giolito was named the South Atlantic League's Most Outstanding Pitcher and Most Outstanding Prospect while 22-year-old infielder Wilmer Difo was named the SAL's MVP:
.@HagerstownSuns INF Wilmer Difo is MVP of the South Atlantic League! SAL Ranks: H (1st, 174), R (T2nd, 90), SB (2nd, 49), AVG (6th, .321).— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 28, 2014
Giolito, in his first full season back following Tommy John surgery, went (10-2) with a 2.20 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 28 walks (2.57 BB/9) and 110 Ks (10.10 K/9) in 20 games and 98 IP before he was shut down for the season.
Difo has put up a .321/.366/.474 line with 30 doubles, seven triples, 13 HRs and 49 stolen bases in 132 games and 592 plate appearances.
"We've got so many other players under the surface of those big four or five names that every publication has," Rizzo said. "You're going to hear names like Difo and [Rafael] Bautista down at A-ball that are dominating at an early age. You've got a Dominican Republic academy that is starting to churn out and bear fruit of all of the efforts that Johnny DiPuglia and those guys have put [in] down there."
"We've got a good thing going here," Rizzo concluded. "And we're just scratching the surface. 2014 is going to be a great year for us, but we're built for '14 and the long haul and we've got a lot of good players coming and a lot of good things coming for the Washington Nationals."