We continue our look inside the Washington Nationals farm system by giving an update on the Nats’ high-A affiliate in the Carolina League, the Potomac Nationals (63-70). Last season, Tripp Keister’s club was the league champions. While they will miss the postseason this year, they did have some late inning drama in their win last night against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Chicago Cubs), Down 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth, Potomac scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth and won the game on a Rafael Bautista sacrifice fly.
The best prospect on the Potomac Nats right now is starting pitcher Reynaldo Lopez. The 20-year-old is 6-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 19 outings. As for the rest of the P-Nats’ rotation, it has changed after having Lucas Giolito (now in Harrisburg), Nick Pivetta (traded to the Phillies’ organization), and John Simms (in Harrisburg), but another name to watch is Austen Williams. The 22-year-old is 4-4 with a 2.49 ERA in nine starts this season.
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Potomac does have a team ERA of 3.32, which is third in the Carolina League. But, their offense has been one of the weak points this season. They have scored the second fewest runs in the league (504) and have the fewest home runs (47). One player to watch is third baseman Drew Ward (.249, 6 HR, 46 RBI’s). Ward leads the team in RBI’s and is second in home runs behind three players (Brenden Webb, John Wooten, and Brandon Miller).
As for Keister, he was in the news yesterday as it was announced who would represent the Nationals in the Arizona Fall League. He will get to manage most of the players he has coached this season at some point such as Ward, Wilmer Difo (now in Harrisburg), catcher Spencer Kieboom (.248, 2 HR, 26 RBI’s), and reliever Nick Lee (now in Harrisburg). Here are the other Nats that will be part of the Salt River Rafters squad in October:
To get more information on Potomac’s season, I spoke with Luke Erickson, who has run the site Nationals Prospects for the last five years. We at District On Deck thank Luke for taking the time to answer these questions. Here is our conversation about Potomac:
Ricky: While Reynaldo Lopez is currently on the disabled list, what has stood out to you about his development this season?
Luke: High-A is often the level where guys with blistering fastballs can no longer get away with subpar secondary pitches. In the last couple of starts, Lopez looked to be focusing on that part of his game and appears to be making progress, particularly with the changeup.
R: The Nationals have hit the fewest home runs in the Carolina League. Is it because their ballpark is tough to hit home runs in or because there isn’t many power hitters in their lineup?
L: No power hitters. The Pfitz is generally a neutral stadium – neither a hitter’s park like Frederick nor a pitcher’s park like Wilmington.
R Alec Keller had a .400 batting average in the month of August (22 games). He has hit mainly in the bottom of the order, but is he a player you can see eventually becoming a good leadoff hitter down the road?
L: At this level, maybe, but I haven’t seen the patience that a good leadoff hitter needs. Potomac as a team has an awful habit of first-pitch swinging and it’s fair to say that’s also a reason why they don’t hit much for power.
R: Other than Lopez, who have been some of the standouts in the Potomac rotation?
L: Lucas Giolito. The rotation this year has been underwhelming. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I think Austen Williams‘s production has exceeded his talent. Once John Simms got healthy, he was pushed up, but this was his second season here and that was to be expected regardless of his health.
R: Who has been the biggest surprise/disappointment in the Potomac lineup?
L: Rafael Bautista is probably the biggest surprise insofar as once he got his legs back, he became a quintessential speed demon. Biggest disappointment? Flip a coin between Drew Ward and Spencer Kieboom. Ward is first baseman playing third. There’s still plenty of time for him to develop into the hitter that folks want him . Kieboom has shown surprisingly little power for his size/age/build.
R: If a fan was going to see a game at Pfitzner Stadium for the first time, what is the first thing they need to see/do when they get to the ballpark?
L: Lower your expectations relative to other ballparks in the minors. It’s adequate, state of the art for 1984 when it was built, but it’s an aging facility and needs work. For newbies, I recommend going midweek when it’s not mobbed and enjoy the food promos like $1 Mondays or $2 Tuesdays or Bellybusters on Wednesdays.
R: How did you come about founding Nationals Prospects?
L: I took over the site in late June 2010 after being the senior editor/writer/bottlewasher for about six moinths. The site was founded by Jordan Tuwiner, who was teenager at the time and was also running oriolesprospects.com, which became Oriole-nation.com and which he sold in 2013. I used to cover the Washington system top-to-bottom and would post up to five times a day (my professional education and training is as a Journalist), but dialed it down last September as my offline responsibilities took precedence. It’s now a post-what-I-can, when-I-can hobby that I still do because I still enjoy writing every day.