WASHINGTON – The Nationals hope to wrap up Instructional League play this weekend against the Miami Marlins and then break camp Oct. 28, assistant general manager/player development Mark Scialabba told Federal Baseball on Wednesday.
And then what?
Well for one, prospects in the system will begin off-season workouts with the hope of heading to Spring Training in February or March.
“Our coaches will keep in touch with players,” Scialabba said from Florida.
Meanwhile, the entire sport – and not just the Nationals – will begin the waiting process to see what happens in the minor leagues in 2021.
The agreement between Major League Baseball and the minors came to an end in late September. The New York Times and Baseball America reported last year on possible contraction that could mean the loss of more than 40 minor league teams across North America.
“We are in a bit of wait and see,” Scialabba told Federal Baseball, without going into detail.
“There is no special date” on the horizon for when there is clarity on the 2021 minor-league season.
Much of that has to do with the pandemic, which is far from over in Spring Training states Florida and Arizona.
And a looming question for all of the minors: will fans be allowed in the stands in 2021? If not the future of each town and city could be in jeopardy, according to sources.
Also coming to an end was a two-year deal between the Nationals and their affiliate in the Pacific Coast League at Triple-A Fresno in California.
Before that, Washington’s top farm club was Triple-A Syracuse in the International League.
The New York Mets now own and use Syracuse, which had a pro team back to 1885, as their top farm club. Syracuse has been in the International League since 1961.
The closest Triple-A cities to Nationals Park are in Norfolk, Virginia, the home of the Orioles’ top farm team since 2007; and in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, the home of the Phillies since 2008.
The nearest Double-A affiliates to the nation’s capital are the Bowie (Md.) Baysox, a farm team of the Orioles since 1993; the Richmond Flying Squirrels, an affiliate of the Giants since 2010; and the Harrisburg (Penn.) Senators, the Eastern League farm club of the Nationals since 2005.
The Nationals’ roster at Instructs included 2020 draft picks Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, Holden Powell, catcher Brady Lindsly (the only non-pitcher), and Mitchell Parker plus non-drafted free agents who signed with the team after the five-round draft this past summer.
That includes infielder Quade Tomlin, a top high school player from Virginia and the son of former Nats’ minor league pitching instructor Randy Tomlin; Virginia Tech product and pitcher Zachary Brzykcy; and infielder Jake Boone, the grandson of Washington front office member and former Major League catcher and manager Bob Boone.
“I am very thankful our ownership group pushed for this camp,” Scialabba said.
The Yankees did not have Instructional League this fall and the Cardinals are waiting till January, according to Baseball America.
“You have to give a lot of credit to the players,” Scialabba said. “Most of them to a man worked their tails off to keep their development going” this year.
The Nationals have dealt with a lot of rain this month in Florida and scheduling issues with the Marlins.
At least one Instructional League game was called off due to Covid-19 concerns in the Marlins’ camp.
The Marlins were the only opponent on the original schedule that began Oct. 6 for the Nationals.
“Our staff has done an amazing job,” Scialabba added. “It has definitely been a challenging year for everyone. Hopefully, this is something we don’t have to do again” with an alternate site and no minor league season.
The Nationals have fallen to near the bottom in industry rankings in terms of talent in the minor league system.
But staff members and fans note that is the price of doing business in trading prospects for veterans that led to a World Series title in 2019.