Washington Nationals Minors: 2016 Hagerstown Suns Season In Review

Mar 19, 2015; Melbourne, FL, USA; A view of Space Coast Stadium during the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Nationals. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 19, 2015; Melbourne, FL, USA; A view of Space Coast Stadium during the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Nationals. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports /

Our minor league year in review series looks at the Washington Nationals low-A afilliate, the Hagerstown Suns, managed by Patrick Anderson

So far, on our Washington Nationals 2016 Minor Leagues in review series, we have looked at triple-A Syracuse, double-A Harrisburg, and high-A Potomac. Today, we take a look at the low-A Hagerstown Suns in the South Atlantic League, who clinched a playoff spot by winning the North Division in the first half.

Although Hagerstown lost in the semifinals to the Lakewood Blue Claws (Philadelphia Phillies), they finished the season with a 83-57 record, which was seven games better than any other team in the SAL. Plus, the Suns have made it into the postseason in four of the last five years.

On offense, the Suns led the league in runs scored (668), were second in the league in stolen bases (172), and they had a .261 batting average as a team (third in the league). In the first half, the top three in the order of Victor Robles, Max Schrock, and Kelvin Gutierrez each hit over .300 and had 30+ RBI’s (Gutierrez led with 48). Once those three players were promoted to high-A, new players began to step up.

Hagerstown’s offense had three players hit double-digit home runs and the player who led in that category was right fielder Rhett Wiseman. Wiseman, who was the Nats third round pick in 2015, had 13 home runs, drove in 75 runs, and stole 19 bases in 29 attempts. Another player who had a strong season was Ian Sagdal, who hit .303 with ten home runs, 59 RBI’s, and had 30 doubles.

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As for the pitching staff, the Suns had a 3.75 team ERA and had the third fewest strikeouts in the SAL. Joan Baez led the staff in wins (nine) and had the most strikeouts (110). In the bullpen, the Suns had 44 saves and three players had eight, including Mariano Rivera III (4.04 ERA in 39 games).

To talk more about the Suns, I had the privilege to talk this week with Hagerstown’s manager, Patrick Anderson. Below you will find our Q+A conversation about the team this season, his success with the GCL Nats in 2013, and his thoughts on Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez’s development:

Ricky: What was your biggest takeaway from this season?

Patrick: We started off really well and very fortunate to clinch the playoffs in the first half. We were very young all the way around. It was a gratification in itself to see those kids (Victor Robles, Max Schrock, Kelvin Gutierrez, Edwin Lora) get viewed up. The development of all those kids was a lot of fun. For the most part, it was a great season as a whole. Bottom line, the development of those players was the best part of it.”

R: How does it change to have a new lineup once players like Robles, Schrock, and Gutierrez were promoted?

P: “Well, the challenge is getting to know the new players and bringing them into the atmosphere we have along with a different league. The organization as a whole has a lot of continuity that allows these players to feel comfortable. With players getting moved up, it’s a challenge all the way around. It was fun and at the lower levels, they want to get better and the challenge of playing every day is one of the hardest things to do. The guys won a lot of games and had a lot of fun doing it.”

R: Rhett Wiseman led the Suns in home runs and RBI’s this year. What stood out to you about Wiseman’s season?

P: “Rhett’s a raw athlete. He really has a lot of tools. The biggest thing for Rhett was getting that game experience and learning the game at the professional level. He has a lot of potential, has some pop. Defensively, he’s come a long way and I was happy with the strides he made there. He’s a great kind, unbelievable makeup and the work ethic is off the charts.”

R: Ian Sagdal hit .366 in the second half of the season and played at four different positions (first base, second base, third base, and left field. Which position does he fit at the most as his career progresses?

P: “I don’t know which position and that’s what makes it so much fun with this guy. A lot of the times, we haven’t developed a utility type of guy in our organization. The last one pretty close to that was Wilmer Difo (more of an infielder). Sagdal’s a jack of all trades. He reminds me kinda like Ben Zobrist. He can swing it, his bat potential is really high, and defensively, he came to instructional league and worked in the infield. I was proud and he did a good job in left field when we needed him. He can handle his own out there. The bat plays really good.”

R: This season, we saw Mariano Rivera III go to the bullpen for a whole season after being a starter at Auburn. How has he developed as a reliever?

P: “He was intriguing throughout the year and did a great job early on. Went through a lull and the numbers can float up there really big. His numbers, as a whole, were very good. He developed a really good breaking ball. For his size, he got on top of a fastball, increased the angle, and topped out at 95-96 miles per hour. The fun part was his dad (former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera) came to a bunch of games and talk to the kids. His son took to it in a good way while his dad let him do his own thing.”

“His son started developing a cutter and it was interesting to see that the apple didn’t fall from the tree with some of those pitches. His dad told me his son was better off now than what he was at that age. It was fun to be around him.”

R: While relievers aren’t judged by wins, how impressive was Jorge Pantoja’s season (9-1, 2.63 ERA in 28 games)?

P: “He came in a little bit late, but he ran a bunch of sinkers and threw them over the plate. He didn’t overwhelm you with stuff but he was getting groundball outs with his sinker and two-seam fastball. Started building some confidence and always in that position to pick up some wins. He deserved them. It was good to see him develop.”

R: How did you view your starting rotation this season?

P: Matthew Derosier was in the rotation. Had to back off of him because he was coming off Tommy John, but I was impressed with him. Jefry Rodriguez had so many quality starts and got so much better from the last two years. Joan Baez came up last year and got hit around. This year, he matured right in front of us. [He had a] electric fastball and worked on his breaking ball. At the end of the year, he got so much better.”

Taylor Guilbeau threw the ball really well. Left-hander Tyler Watson came in at the end. He is one of those sleepers. Can throw up to 92 from the left side around the plate. He is mature beyond his age. It was a lot of fun to watch these guys.”

R: What was it like to manage a Gulf Coast team that went 49-9 in 2013?

P: Everybody was on the same page. They competed and they were fundamentally sound. They bought into grinding out at-bats on offense and making plays defensively. We waited around and it was like, who was the next guy to take over and lead us to a win? Guys got used to it, it was contagious. We had some talent and they just got used to winning. It didn’t matter who you put in the lineup, somebody was going to step up and find a way to win a game. It was great to sit back and watch.”

R: How have you changed as a manager since you joined the Washington Nationals organization?

P: “I was with Kansas City for nine years and had a lot of guys that mentored me. When I came over to the Nationals, every year understanding that winning is everything. I get competitive and want the players to be competitive, but the development is really important. For me, to identify we might lose this game tonight, but this kid needs this experience.”

“In those situations, I’m still learning and learned a lot to where you look aside from just winning and say this is what’s best for this player. That alone is a huge task every game. Randy Knorr, Bobby Henley, Doug Harris, those guys in our front office, all our rovers help me out, give me some advice, they like the things that we do. Still, there is stuff I need to get better with and it’s a great learning experience for myself.”

R: This season, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez make their Major League debuts. How have you viewed their development and what stood out to you about them when you managed them in 2014?

P: “We had them so early on and it was a treat to watch their stuff. Their stuff is electric. The fastball was overwhelming, above average. I remember from the postseason, Lopez threw against Greensboro. I saw a couple of scouts after the game and they told me he could’ve pitched at any level. He had three pitches for strikes and the quality of stuff was off the charts.”

“When Lucas came back and pitched a rehab game with us this season, the questions and the maturity he had when he came back was awesome to be able to see from a development standpoint. Koda Glover ran through the system quickly and it was a joy to see him in the Major Leagues.”

Sam Narron (pitching coach) and myself got to see Lopez pitch his first start and to see the look on his face before he got there is what we are in it for. It was beautiful to see the smile on his face in a big league clubhouse.”

R: How does it feel for you as a manager when you watch your former players make an impact on the next level?

P: “It’s a joy and a treat because you see them so early on. You see the development and close to the finished product when they have a chance to compete and do something at the big league level. It’s a great feeling for everyone. It’s the process from rookie ball all the way up to triple-A. All the coaches, people, scouts, and everyone putting it together, it’s a fun ordeal. We are hoping for a championship and that’s what we preach. It’s such a joy to see these kids have an impact.”

Next: Nationals Prospect Update: Andrew Stevenson

Once again, we at District On Deck thank Patrick for taking the time to answer our questions and we want to congratulate the Suns on a good season.