The Washington Nationals announced their minor league coaching staff Friday afternoon, an annual tradition that generally takes place a little earlier in the offseason and usually does not often include much news at all.
But this year, the organization so committed to minor league continuity orchestrated what, by the Nationals’ standards, amounted to a shake-up. Syracuse pitching coach Bob Milacki, who had been in that position since 2015, and Harrisburg pitching coach Chris Michalak, who had been in the organization since 2009, will not return. Michalak has taken a job as the Marlins’ pitching coordinator, according to a person familiar with the situation. Former Rangers bullpen coach Brad Holman will replace Milacki with the Chiefs. Michael Tejera, who was pitching coach for the Gulf Coast Nationals, will coach the Senators. Pitching coach Sam Narron will move from Low-A Hagerstown to High-A Potomac, and Tim Redding moves from Rookie League Auburn to Hagerstown. Franklin Bravo, who had been the pitching coach for Potomac last year, will coach Auburn.
The Nationals had seen several highly touted pitchers — including Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde — rocket to the higher levels before struggling to convert that talent to the majors in what were admittedly brief stints. Since General Manager Mike Rizzo took over in 2009, the Nationals have emphasized development of good young pitching. But lately, they have failed to convert elite young talent into reliable major leaguers as frequently as they had done earlier in Rizzo’s tenure. The changes, combined with the arrival of a new major league coaching staff, will likely alter (at least to some extent) the way young pitchers are handled when they reach the higher levels. After trading away Giolito and fellow top prospect Reynaldo Lopez, as well as several promising arms at the lower levels, the Nationals used last year’s draft to replenish their pitching potential. Now, they have a new-look staff to handle them.
Still, the Nationals prize consistency in minor league coaching, so while significant by their standards, the changes would not mark much of a shift by most others. Longtime pitching coordinator Paul Menhart will retain his duties, aided by fixture Spin Williams, a special assistant. While Syracuse Manager Billy Gardner Jr. will be replaced in that role by longtime and beloved Nationals coach Randy Knorr, he will remain on staff as a roving coordinator — similar to the role Knorr filled during the past two seasons.
Matt LeCroy, Tripp Keister and Patrick Anderson will be back to manage Harrisburg, High-A Potomac and Low-A Hagerstown. Former Nationals minor leaguer Mario Lisson, recently retired, will get his first managerial opportunity, taking over the Gulf Coast Nationals from fellow former player Josh Johnson.
For all the changes on the pitching side, little has changed elsewhere. The well-established coordinators, who dictate most developmental strategy, are all back. The hitting coaches at the higher levels have not changed. But as an organization that prioritizes pitching and craves continuity, the Nationals seem to have sacrificed the latter to improve the former — a relative overhaul, and something worth watching in 2018.
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