Class AAA Syracuse wins International League North Division


Steven Souza Jr. (Photo by Rick Nelson/Syracuse Chiefs)

With a 6-2 victory last night over Pawtucket, Class AAA Syracuse claimed the International League’s North Division title, the latest honor in a strong season for the Nationals‘ farm system. With a lineup stocked with players capable of holding major league roster spots, the Chiefs clinched with a record of 80-61 with two games remaining in the regular season.

Several of the players who lifted Syracuse to the title will join the Nationals as September call-ups. General Manager Mike Rizzo said the Class AAA playoffs would not take precedence over helping the Nationals’ roster in a playoff race. Rizzo spoke with assistant general managers Doug Harris and Bob Boone and determined the Nationals would be better served sacrificing their best chance in the International League postseason.

“We’ve discussed a strategy,” Rizzo said. “They agree that the most important thing is for us to win here. We develop in the minor league side. Part of the development is to win championships. But our balance, as far as call-ups goes, is to bring up guys that will help us win games in the big leagues. If one of these call-ups can steal us a big base or pitch us a big inning or match up left-on-left, we know that’s to our advantage.”

Rizzo said he knows which players will be summoned, but declined to name them. Players who could be called up include Tyler Moore, Steve Souza, Aaron Barrett, Blake Treinen, Sandy Leon, Xavier Cedeno, Michael A. Taylor, Jeff Kobernus and a few others.

“They played very well with a lot of prospects that have helped in the big leagues and that’ll continue to help us in the big leagues in the future,” Rizzo said. “It’s not a veteran-infused roster. It’s a roster of young players on the way that are going to help us in the future. … It shows we’ve got good players at each level,” Rizzo said. “Having good, young prospects at the highest minor league level is important. They’re the first line of reinforcements that can help us up here.”

Syracuse’s title continued a string of achievements for the Nationals’ system. Class A Potomac and Class A Hagerstown both won their second-half league titles. Class A Potomac’s Tripp Keister and Syracuse’s Billy Gardner both won manager of the year in their respective leagues. Hagerstown shortstop Wilmer Difo, Taylor and Souza all won MVP awards in their league.  “Which is incredible, I think,” Rizzo said. Top prospect Lucas Giolito won the pitcher of the year in the South Atlantic League.

“It’s the deepest amount of prospects we’ve had in the minor league system since I’ve been here,” Rizzo said. “I think you’re starting to see the results of what we’re trying to achieve here. We want the game to be played a certain way by certain types of players and be taught how to happen. You see that happening. We’re not only winning. We’re winning at age-appropriate levels with players who have high ceilings and a chance to help us in the big leagues.”

Rizzo believes one of the Nationals’ most important accomplishments in the farm system is creating rosters players at the right age for their level. Five years ago, the Nationals were signing minor league free agents to fill out teams at Class A. “These are players drafted and developed by us who have seen their ascent through the minor leagues,” Rizzo said.

Adam Kilgore covers national sports for the Washington Post. Previously he served as the Post's Washington Nationals beat writer from 2010 to 2014.
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Adam Kilgore · August 31, 2014