While the Washington Nationals continue to falter early in 2019, the same can’t be said for their Double-A affiliate. The Harrisburg Senators are off to a remarkable start this season with seemingly everything firing on all cylinders.
The Senators currently hold a 19-4 record after winning three of four against the Hartford Yard Goats this weekend. Manager Matt LeCroy couldn’t be much happier with the way that his ballclub is playing so far.
“It’s been a good team effort” LeCroy said before the twin-bill on Saturday. “We’ve done some good things with our situational hitting on offense. We’re just in one of those streaks and fortunately for us it’s at the beginning, hopefully we can continue to do well.”
Every phase of the game has clicked for the team. They lead the Eastern League in runs, slugging, and home runs on the offensive side. Then on the pitching front, they top the league in ERA, WHIP, and saves, while coming in third for strikeouts.
Usually, that sort of mix is hard to find in the minors with so much turnover, but it’s been a perfect storm of experienced players and young stars coming up through the system.
One of those stars so far has been Rhett Wiseman. He may not be a prospect a lot of Nats fans are familiar with right now as he hasn’t been in MLB.com’s top 30 prospects for the Nationals since 2016. But with his start to 2019, you’ll start to hear his name a lot more.
The young outfielder currently leads the Eastern League in home runs with eight, is second in OPS at 1.113, and trails only teammate Drew Ward in RBI, becoming a huge bat in the heart of the order for the Senators.
The source of his recent success seems to come from some extra offseason work on his swing prior to the 2018 season.
“I did a lot of work in Spring Training with Troy Gingrich, our hitting coordinator,” Wiseman said of the tweaks he made in 2018. “We were able to incorporate my lower-half a lot better into my swing than I ever have before.”
“Prior to that season last year in 2018, I’ve just been a hitter who has been able to use strength to get the balls out of the ballpark and I think last year was the first year I was able to use other parts of my body to hit the ball a long way.”
That translated into a productive .253/.361/.484 slash line with 21 home runs and 63 RBI in Potomac, which earned him post-season Carolina League All-Star honors, along with fellow P-Nats Wil Crowe and Ian Sagdal, who are also now also with the Senators this season.
With so many outstanding performances, it was no surprise that Potomac made the playoffs. Though they just missed out on winning it all in a winner-takes-all game, it was clearly a great experience for the outfielder.
“I love to win and making the playoffs last year with that team was fantastic,” Wiseman said. “We had a great run and we didn’t get the ending that we wanted, but there were some guys that had great seasons and it was great being a part of that as well.”
Now, with a full season of working on those changes to his mechanics, Wiseman is really reaping the rewards this season.
“I don’t think we’ve made a lot of changes to my swing at all going from last year,” he said.
“It’s just kind of refining my approach a little bit and getting into good counts, getting good pitches to hit and not missing those pitches I think is the biggest thing.”
LeCroy is also clearly impressed with Wiseman’s hot start and mature approach at the dish.
“He’s been a really big bright spot,” LeCroy said of his outfielder. “He hasn’t chased much, his swings and misses are in the zone, he’s been able to hit his pitch. He’s been a big lift for us here at the beginning of our season.
“They did some things with his lower half so that he wouldn’t miss his pitches. That’s carried over for the games because really, if they throw it in that honey hole, which I call a honey hole, he usually does a good job of squaring it up.”
But he’s not the only player to come up from the Potomac Nationals, who made the playoffs last season. And with a whole group of them coming up at the same time, it’s another factor in the team’s hot start.
“I think that the guys who have come up, myself, Ian Sagdal, Luis Garcia, Tres Barrera, guys that have come up, position guys, we’ve been really welcomed in and kind of just brought right in by the older guys,” Wiseman said of the familiarity.
“I would say also, a lot of the older guys on this team, there’s a ton of experience on this team in particular and I think that the older leadership on this team is one of the reasons this team is so good.”
With his own and the team’s performances, Wiseman likely has the attention of the Nats’ front office. At some point, he’s hoping to follow in the footsteps of some of his former college teammates who have made the major leagues.
Wiseman was part of the Vanderbilt team that won a National Championship in 2014 before falling short in the final in 2015, and he clearly remembers those times fondly.
“When I look back on my career, those will be two of the best years of my life,” he said.
During his time with the Commodores, he played with the likes of Walker Buehler, Dansby Swanson, and Carson Fulmer, who have all gone on to make their big league debuts.
“I’m so happy for those guys,” Wiseman said. “There’s a lot of other guys that I played with that have been in the big leagues. Bryan Reynolds debuted a week ago. He was a key piece of both of those teams, ‘14 and ‘15.”
“It’s great seeing those guys because I work out with them in the offseason and it’s nice to see all their hard work pay off.”
The Nationals’ young big league outfield is one of their strengths, giving Wiseman plenty of time to develop into the best player he can be. In 2019, he’s flashed some high upside that could make him a post-hype prospect to keep an eye on in the system.
It's going to be fun for Nationals fans to watch Wiseman and the rest of the Harrisburg Senators continue to have a lot of success.