WASHINGTON – It’s nearly two years in the making – dozens of prospects in the Nationals’ farm system will play in a real professional game for the first time in months on Tuesday.
The minor league season – a victim of the pandemic in 2020 – will begin across the United States although Major League Baseball cut nearly 40 affiliates since the 2019 season ended.
“At the end of the day, it was such a grind for them to not have a season,” Washington’s assistant general manager, player development, Mark Scialabba told Federal Baseball last week from West Palm Beach, FL. “They see the light at the end of the tunnel – I am just so happy for these young men.”
Scialabba said there were some challenges in putting together the rosters for Triple-A Rochester, Double-A Harrisburg, high Single-A Wilmington and low Single-A Fredericksburg.
“There were a number of factors that are changing,” Scialabba said. “Some of them lost a year of development. Some of them are young and just getting started, some are towards the later years of minor league control.”
The Nationals’ Triple-A team in 2019 was in Fresno, California. The high Single-A team for the Nationals in 2019 was the Potomac Nationals in Woodbridge, Virginia.
“You are also dealing in some of the changes in the landscape of minor league baseball; losing a club (in Auburn, New York), having expanded rosters, dealing with some of the new rules, and new format of our affiliate affiliation. There was a limited amount of time to prepare for Spring Training. There were so many factors this year in play, and not just because of COVID protocols by an ever-changing landscape in the minors,” he said.
Here is a look at the Nationals’ four MiLB affiliates:
• Triple-A Rochester: manager Matt LeCroy
Pitching coach: Miguel Tejera
Hitting coach: Brian Daubach
First game: Tuesday at Lehigh Valley
Dudes!— Rochester Red Wings (@RocRedWings) May 2, 2021
In Red Wings uniforms!!
At Frontier Field!!!
For the first time in 608 days!!!! pic.twitter.com/FOB1in1aZD
• Double-A Harrisburg: manager Tripp Keister
Pitching coach: Sam Narron
Hitting coach: Brian Rupp
First game: Tuesday at Somerset
• Single-A Wilmington: manager Tommy Shields
Pitching coach: Justin Lord
Hitting coach: Luis Ordaz
First game: Tuesday at home with Aberdeen
We've been granted approval to welcome fans back at a limited capacity for the 2021 season! Individual tickets for all May home games will go on sale April 19. ⚾— Wilmington Blue Rocks (@WilmBlueRocks) April 1, 2021
It won't be long now. .
: https://t.co/S6sw7sCFeS pic.twitter.com/UPcXcNwfrD
• Single-A Fredericksburg: manager Mario Lisson
Pitching coach: Jorge Mejia
Hitting coach: Pat Rice
First game: Tuesday at Lynchburg
A few important things to note for this season:— Fredericksburg Nationals (@FXBGNats) April 28, 2021
- MLB requires everyone inside the ballpark to wear a mask
- Seating will be in pods 6 ft apart ⬅️ 6️⃣ ➡️
- The stadium will be 100% cashless ❌
- As always, fans should be weary of foul balls ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/SwDh7oZr77
While Scialabba said rosters had not been announced as of late last week, he did comment on a few prospects.
Pitching prospects Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge were in major league Spring Training and then moved to the alternate site in Fredericksburg.
“We obviously have our Triple-A staff there and Sam Narron there as well,” Scialabba said. “We are on top of every outing. They are both in a very good spot right now.”
Non-drafted infielders signed last year include Jake Boone and Quade Tomlin.
Boone is the grandson of Washington executive Bob Boone while Tomlin is the son of Randy Tomlin, a former pitcher for the Pirates and a former pitching coach in the player development with the Nationals.
The younger Boone played in college at Princeton while Tomlin was signed out of his Virginia high school and turned down a chance to play at Division I Liberty, as his father did.
“Jake picked up where he left off in Instructional League,” Scialabba said. “He played solid defense at multiple positions. He needs to create more consistency with his swing. Seeing breaking balls is a challenge for many young hitters. He has really shown he can compete.”
“Quade is getting his feet wet in professional baseball,” Scialabba noted. “For a high school pick, it is learning their strengths and how they fit into this process and learning how to be a professional not only on the field but off the field. He has done a nice job offensively. He is making adjustments and showing a knack to get the barrel on the baseball. Defensively, he is working really hard and there is a lot of opportunity for growth there.”
Outfielder Alec Keller was signed back to the organization after he was let go in 2020. The former Princeton standout rose to the Triple-A level in Fresno in 2019 after he was taken in the 17th round in 2014.
“He has done a nice job. We know the individual we are getting back,” Scialabba said.
“He is going to go out there and compete. He is an A-plus individual with great makeup and intellect. He is someone we like a lot.”
Another veteran back in the system is reliever Justin Miller, 33, who appeared in 51 games for Washington in 2018 and then 17 the following year.
He was in Florida until recently before being sent to the alternate site in Fredericksburg.
“He was throwing in Arizona and one of our special assistants has seen him over the year and recommended we sign him back again. We want to give him another chance. He was a big part of our bullpen at one point,” Scialabba said.
“We can never have too much pitching. He could be a piece for us at the Triple-A level and he has done a nice job so far.”
Lefty pitcher Kyle Lobstein, a second-round pick of the Rays in 2008, was also signed by Washington and was sent from Florida to Fredericksburg. He last pitched in the majors in 2016 with the Pirates. He was signed by Washington on March 22nd.