We continue our review of the 2016 Washington Nationals minor league seasons by looking at double-A Harrisburg
So far, in our review of the Washington Nationals minor league system, we have looked at high-A Potomac and triple-A Syracuse. Today, we take a look at the Nats double-A affiliate in the Eastern League, Harrisburg Senators.
This season, the Senators finished the season with a 76-66 record under manager Matthew LeCroy and barely missed the playoffs. That being said, their 76 wins were nine more than they had a season ago (67-75).
When you look at the Senators offense, it was not one of the strongest points of their team. They finished with the third lowest batting average (.253), the second fewest runs (569), and the second fewest home runs (72) in the Eastern League. Despite the bad team numbers, Harrisburg had a couple of offensive standouts.
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Right fielder Isaac Ballou led the team in RBI’s (55) and hit .253 with six home runs. The Senators had two players who hit double-digit home runs on the season. Those two players were left fielder fielder Kevin Keyes (12) and first baseman Neftali Soto (ten). Outside of the power, center fielder Rafael Bautista stole 56 bases in 66 attempts, which was a team record.
On the mound, the Senators had Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez on their team at one point during the season. The team finished with a 3.75 ERA (third in the EL) despite having the fourth fewest strikeouts of any team. Tyler Mapes finished the season with 12 wins in 25 starts and had a 2.70 ERA in the second half of the season (eight starts)
At the end of the season, the pitcher to watch on the Senators was starter Erick Fedde. Fedde, who got promoted to double-A in August, went 2-1 with a 3.99 ERA in five starts and ended his season with a 12-strikeout performance on August 31 against Bowie (Baltimore Orioles).
To get more insight on the Senators, I got the chance to talk to Mick Reinhard, who just finished covering the Senators for the sixth season. Below you will find my Q+A session with Mick:
Ricky: What was your biggest takeaway from the 2016 Senators season?
Mick: I kind of forgot how much team chemistry can make a difference in a positive way. We often hear about the cancers in the clubhouse or the teams that have players leave in 25 different cabs, but rarely do we notice a team like the Senators that outplay their Pythagorean W-L by seven wins with a very visible camaraderie for each other. I really was surprised by the way this team pulled for each other on a nightly basis.
The best example of this was the final day of the season when they found out around the sixth inning they had been eliminated from the playoffs. A lot of teams would have packed in it, but Harrisburg strung six straight hits together in the ninth inning to overcome a two-run deficit and end the season on a 5-4 walk-off win that saw the players celebrate like they just won the whole thing. A big part of that has to be credited to manager Matt LeCroy.
R: Erick Fedde had a strong finish to his 2016 season at double-A. What stood out to you about Fedde and how soon do you think he can make the big leagues?
M: Fedde made nice adjustments in his five starts for Harrisburg. After getting hit around a little, I think he realized he can’t blow everybody away at this level with his fastball. His best start, also his last, he threw all three of his pitches for strikes and kept his slider down in the zone. He’s a real competitor with the ball in his hand. Much like Lucas Giolito this season, I see Fedde returning to Harrisburg next year with the very real possibility of pitching in D.C. later in the season if his development continues and the opportunity arises.
R: Even though the Senators scored the second fewest runs in the Eastern League, who impressed you most offensively?
M: At the end of the day, I was impressed with Rafael Bautista’s season in his first taste of Double-A. He finished the season hitting .282 and although there was little power (12 doubles, 4 triples, and 4 home runs) his stolen bases turned many singles into de facto doubles.
R: Rafael Bautista stole 56 bases in 2016. How does his speed compare to Trea Turner?
M: It’s not that fast, but then again the number of players on that list is less than a handful. I would put his speed more on par with someone like former Nats’ farmhand Eury Perez although Bautista is a better baserunner with secondary leads and taking the extra base. Bautista is also a skilled bunter who could easily beat out balls he was adept at placing between the pitcher and third baseman.
R: Looking at the bullpen, Andrew Robinson had 65 strikeouts to lead all relievers. What impressed you the most about Robinson as the main closer for Harrisburg?
M: Robinson’s flexibility in the bullpen was a huge asset to the Senators. He started out in the long role giving the Senators multiple innings (even making a spot start) before roster moves made him the presumed closer. Robinson won’t overwhelm the radar gun, but his ability to throw strikes, get ahead in the count, and pitch inside were keys to his success.
R: Biggest Surprise on the Senators this season?
M: I have two. First would be Reynaldo Lopez and his development as a pitcher. Coming into this season the word on Lopez was that his command was iffy at best and it was only a matter of time before he would be moved to the bullpen. But after a few starts with Harrisburg, things clicked for Lopez and he was one of the more dominant pitchers to come through here. Whether that continues to translate for Lopez moving forward is anyone’s guess but he definitely earned the opportunity the Nationals have given him this season.
Secondly, and this may be an odd response considering the offensive numbers don’t necessarily reflect it, but Wilmer Difo was a different player for the Senators this season. He brought an improved attitude to the field every day, worked his butt off, and became a real leader on this team with his infectious personality.
R: What is your Washington Nationals playoff prediction?
M: The race for home field advantage with the Dodgers is a real key to their first round matchup. If Los Angeles can pass Washington, I don’t like the Nationals’ chances facing Kershaw and Hill in Chavez Ravine. Regardless, winning the division series is looking more and more like an uphill climb with nagging injuries to Harper and Murphy, but Scherzer and Roark give them more than a puncher’s chance.
We at District On Deck thank Mick for taking the time to share his thoughts on the 2016 Harrisburg Senators season.