The Washington Post

Corey Brown emerges at Syracuse, and another Nationals minor league name to know

In his second year with the Nationals, Corey Brown has become the player they hoped they had traded for. Brown arrived with the Nationals in December 2010, in the trade that sent Josh Willingham to the Oakland A’s and also brought Henry Rodriguez. His first season was a string of disappointments, injuries mixed with ineffective play. “Last year was a tough year for him,” Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris said. “And it snowballed.”

This year has been different. Brown has been dominant at Class AAA Syracuse in the season’s first 46 games. He has hit .286 with a .394 on-base percentage and a .531 slugging percentage, with 10 home runs in 175 at-bats – he leads all players in the Nationals organization in homers.

Brown’s success has stemmed from an adjustment he made this spring with Syracuse hitting coach Troy Gingrich, one of the longest-tenured members of the organization. Last year, Harris said, Brown shifted his weight in his lower body too early in his swing. He stayed back better this year, making him more consistent and closing holes in his swing.

Brown, a left-handed hitter, received a call-up last September, which went awry when he came down with a nasty infection in his knee. He has again caught the attention of Nationals officials for a potential promotion.

“That’s up to Mike [Rizzo] and Davey [Johnson],” Harris said. “They certainly are aware of the strides he’s made and his potential to be an option if needed.”

The Nationals currently have three left-handed outfielders in Bryce Harper, Roger Bernadina and Rick Ankiel. Harper has made himself one of the most vital players on the team. Bernadina and Ankiel have had up-and-down seasons.

Ankiel has been the Nationals’ regular center fielder, playing outstanding defense and showcasing perhaps the best arm in the majors. After a nice offensive start, too, Ankiel is hitting .231/.284/.389 for the season.

After a brief surge following Jayson Werth’s broken wrist, Bernadina has gone 2 for his last 16 with six strikeouts. He seems to have fallen out of favor – against two right-handed starters in Philadelphia, Steve Lombardozzi started in left while Bernadina started on the bench.

In other minor league developments, here’s one under-the-radar name to keep in mind: Billy Burns, a 21-year-old outfielder at Class A Hagerstown. The Nationals drafted Burns last year in the 32nd round out of Mercer. He batted only right-handed, but to better utilize his considerable speed and to help him against curveballs, the Nationals took an unusual step: In the instructional league last fall, they turned him into a switch-hitter.

After only a matter of months learning to hit left-handed, Burns’s results in his first season at Hagerstown have sparkled. His on-base percentage sits at .438, including .444 from the left side. He has only slugged .274 batting left-handed, basically slapping the ball to reach base, but he’s made up for that with a .551 slugging percentage as a right-handed batter.

“He’s a tremendous athlete,” Harris said. “He really understands what he needs to do to be a switch-hitter.”

Harris added Burns “might be the fastest guy in the organization.” He has been clocked running from the left-handed batter’s box to first base between 3.8 and 3.9 seconds, “which is ridiculous,” Harris said.

More from The Washington Post:

How the Nats, Phillies stack up

Hamels dominates the Nationals

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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