Washington Nationals Minor Leagues: Harrisburg Senators Midseason Update

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We continue our weekly look inside the Washington Nationals minor league system by going up to double-A. Today, it’s all about the Harrisburg Senators, who are the Nats’ affiliate in the Eastern League. This season, the Senators are 61-66, but there are many players on Brian Daubach’s club that have the potential to be good Major Leaguers in the future.

The talk of the Senators’ rotation lately has been the addition of the Nats’ top prospect, Lucas Giolito. In five starts with Harrisburg, Giolito is 2-1 with a 3.77. On August 14, the 22-year-old right-hander had a great outing when he gave up only one hit over seven innings while striking out 11 batters against the Bowie Bay Sox (Baltimore Orioles).

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Another pitcher to watch on the Senators is Austin Voth. The 23-year-old right-hander is 5-6 with a 2.97 ERA in 24 starts and he leads the Eastern League in strikeouts with 133. Since the Eastern League All-Star Game, Voth has a 2.72 ERA over the course of seven starts. While Giolito and Voth have put up good numbers, the team, as a whole, has a 3.79 ERA (fourth highest in the Eastern League).

When you look at the Senators’ offense, the team has the lowest batting average in the league (.248) and the third fewest home runs, but they are a team that can steal bases (134 steals – 2nd in the league). Wilmer Difo has been a big factor on the bases as the shortstop has stolen 26 bases in 28 attempts. The 23-year-old is hitting .293 with four home runs, 46 RBI’s, and has a .334 on-base percentage.

To learn more about the Washington Nationals double-A affiliate, I talked with Mick Reinhard. Mick covers the Harrisburg Senators for Penn Live/The Patriot News We at District On Deck thank Mick for taking the time to answer our questions. You can find our Q+A discussion below:

Ricky: When did you start covering the Senators and what has been your favorite moment since you started covering the team?

Mick: My first season covering the team was in 2011 when the Senators had future Nats players Bryce Harper, Tanner Roark, and Tyler Moore on the squad. I’d say my favorite moment was when that team punched their ticket to the playoffs. They were the best team in the league that season, but because of a flood that engulfed the stadium they had to play their first playoff series in Richmond and got swept in the first round.

R: Lucas Giolito has walked 14 batters in five starts with the Senators, but he did have the one hit shutout and 11 strikeouts on August 14. What has stood out to you about Giolito in his first five starts at double-A?

M: A couple of things have stood out to me about Giolito. First, I have a hard time believing he just turned 21. He’s really smart, loves poring over scouting reports, and is mature beyond his age. Secondly, as good as his fastball is, it’s the curve that’s a thing of beauty. It is downright nasty. If I was a batter, I don’t know what would be a better option: having it freeze me or looking silly swinging at it.

R: One of the mainstays in the Senators’ rotation has been Austin Voth. How do you evaluate his season and when do you think Nats’ fans might see Voth pitching in DC?

M: Voth has had a real, solid season for the Senators. I worry about how his stuff will play up at the major league level. He struggles with his efficiency at times, seemingly pitching to the 6th inning. And even though he leads the Eastern League in strikeouts, batters have extended lots of at-bats against him which also bumps up his pitch counts. I believe if he has a good season next year in Syracuse, I could see him as a September call-up if not before then.

R: All the talk has been about shortstop Trea Turner the last few weeks, but Wilmer Difo is hitting .369 in his last 18 games? What has been the difference for Difo since the second half of the season?

M: When Difo returned from his first stint with the Nationals, he needed about two weeks until he got back into the groove. Sitting on Washington’s bench for two weeks and garnering only four pinch-hit opportunities really hurt his progress up until that point. It happened again the next time he got called up, but not to that extent. He’s a guy that right now needs reps. He just needs to play every day. The one thing I think he still needs to work on is pitch selectivity. If he sees more than 10 pitches in an entire game, it’s a lot. I like that aggressiveness, but more often that not he’s hacking at anything in the strike zone on any count.

R: Pedro Severino was the Senators’ only position player to make the Eastern League All-Star Game, but he is hitting .218 in the second half of the season. What has been the main reason for his struggles?

M: Two things. Seve has a strong tendency to get pull happy at the plate and I think the grind has worn him down a little over the summer. He’s caught a lot of games (about 3/4 of them) and I think it’s even affecting his defense and focus behind the plate. That being said, if his offense can become more consistent he’s going to contribute at the MLB level.

R: Biggest surprise/disappointment on this year’s team?

M: The biggest surprise for me would be a couple of guys in the bullpen, Bryan Harper and Abel De Los Santos. After playing some games with Harrisburg last season, I was familiar with Harper but he has impressed me this season. De Los Santos was an unknown coming over from Texas in the Ross Detwiler trade, and I can see what the Nationals saw in the reliever. He has a live arm and when he trusts his stuff he could be a guy in the back-end of the bullpen.

Biggest disappointment on a personal level is having Trea Turner for only 10 games at Double-A. I would have loved to watch him a lot longer. But otherwise, I would say Brian Goodwin‘s struggles this year have been a real disappointment. He has all the tools and it’s frustrating to watch him not put it together season after season.

R: If fans were going to see a Senators game for the first time, what should they expect when they arrive at the ballpark?

M: Metro Bank Park, which was renovated before the 2010 season into a first-class facility, sits on City Island in the middle of the Susquehanna River. You can access it via car, or even walk across a pedestrian bridge from downtown Harrisburg. One thing the ballpark is known for are the mayflies that swarm the lights and fall into your beer during the summer months. The team in recent years has done a good job embracing the issue by having things like “Party like a Mayfly” and even wearing Mayflies jerseys this year on What If? night.

The other thing that I find supremely fascinating is that the ball field has been laid out the exact same way on City Island for over 100 years. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Oscar Charleston, and Chief Bender are just some of the luminaries that have played there in its storied past.

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