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Washington Nationals’ player development shakeup

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Don’t read too much into those who have left the Nationals’ system among minor league instructors …

MLB: SEP 17 Rockies at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

WASHINGTON - No doubt about it: a lot of experience has or is leaving the Nationals in the player development area.

The Athletic, on Tuesday, reported that minor league instructors Tommy Shields, Pat Rice, Gary Thurman, and Brian Rupp will not return next year.

Shields was the manager of Single-A Wilmington, Rice was the pitching coach at Single-A Fredericksburg, Thurman was an outfield and baserunning instructor, and Rupp was the hitting coach for Double-A Harrisburg.

Those four combined to play nearly 50 years in the minors or majors and teamed up for close to two decades as part of Washington’s system in player development.

Thurman was an outfielder in the majors from 1987-97 with several clubs; Fairfax, Virginia native Shields was an infielder for the Orioles in 1992 and the Cubs in 1993; Rice pitched for Seattle in 1991; and Rupp played in the minors for several years after he was drafted by the Cardinals out of Missouri in 1992.

Throw in the report that Brad Holman and Larry Pardo filed a religious discrimination lawsuit, according to The Washington Post, when they refused the vaccine mandate imposed by the Nationals on minor league instructors.

Holman was the pitching coordinator in player development while Pardo was one of the pitching coaches for the Florida Complex League teams.

Rice worked in the Angels’ system with Thurman, and Rice hired Holman when they worked in player development with Seattle.

“There is a pretty strong connection there,” Rice said to Federal Baseball last month of Holman and Thurman.

“The Nats have been awesome and very good to me. I appreciate everything they did during the pandemic. I think that our guys did it right.

“The Angels basically furloughed their entire [minor league] coaching staff. That is a tough move; my friends that are there, that was really hard on them.”

Rice had the misfortune of being with a Fredericksburg team that lost its first 15 games this year.

“We are going to be all right,” he told his pitchers, per his interview last month with Federal Baseball.

“It is just we have some stuff to work on. Don’t worry, things are going to get better.”

Holman filled in as the pitching coach for Harrisburg for a few games after Sam Narron joined the big league staff as a bullpen coach.

Holman also filled in at Triple-A Rochester for 12 games.

“At the Major League level, it is about winning,” Holman told Federal Baseball in August.

“Going to the minor leagues has a different element, especially this season. You can work with guys without the fear of failing.”

Fredericksburg ended up 44-76, Harrisburg was 42-76 and Wilmington was 52-64.

Shields grew up in the Philadelphia area, went to Notre Dame and is a former minor league manager with the Orioles.

He led the Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds to the South Atlantic League title in 1997 while with the Orioles. Shields played in the Carolina League in Woodbridge and Salem.

“Managing is a lot of fun,” Shields told Federal Baseball last year. “I think you can have the most impact on kids and the trajectory of their career as a manager. So it is a challenge to be with those kids and I am looking forward to it.”

But don’t read too much into this: change is part of the American workforce these days, and pro baseball is no different.

Also, this week, the San Diego Padres parted ways with Sam Geaney, the senior director of player development. Other teams will certainly shuffle minor league roles once the Triple-A and Major League regular-season ends the first weekend of October.

As a Nats fan, however, if the team continues to make cuts in player development that should raise a concern.

There were those that I spoke to in player development in the past year that made references to Washington being under-staffed in some areas down on the farm.

That would not bode well for the future, after the late July trades for an influx of prospects helped bring the Nationals from last in the farm system rankings by Baseball America up to No. 23.