The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Nationals just revamped their player development staff. What were the biggest changes?

Mike Rizzo and co. unveiled a new and improved player development staff this week. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

The Washington Nationals unveiled a revamped player development staff this week, checking their biggest box in what otherwise has been a quiet, lockout-dampened offseason. There are a lot of new names — some familiar, some less so — and added roles to sift through. And a lot of questions, too, a handful of which are asked and answered below.

Just how much bigger is the player development staff compared with last season? When The Washington Post analyzed 2021 player development staff sizes in December (concluding the Nationals had the smallest among all 30 teams), part-time coaches and instructors, clubhouse managers, equipment managers, special assistants, administrative staff and interns were not counted in each club’s total. Neither was anyone hired once the season began. That formula had the Nationals with 46 full-time employees working directly with minor league players last year. In December, General Manager Mike Rizzo promised an increase of “at least 24 percent” (not necessarily using The Post’s metrics).

So did the Nationals get there? Using the same parameters as that initial analysis, the Nationals will have 16 more people in hands-on player development jobs in 2022, matching their stated plan to rebuild with a higher investment in the minors. That’s close to a 35 percent bump in personnel. They added a developmental coach at every affiliate (five total), an additional hitting and pitching coordinator, a nutritionist, mental skills coach and director of player development technology and strategy, among other roles.

What organizations did the Nationals hire from? Of the hires that became official Tuesday, three are from the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets, two from the Miami Marlins and San Diego Padres, and one each from the Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants. That’s 10 organizations. Coco Crisp, the new outfield/base-running coordinator, and Delwyn Young, new hitting coach for the low-A Fredericksburg Nationals, were managers in the inaugural MLB Draft League in 2021. Bill Mueller, the new quality control coordinator, was most recently the hitting coach at Arizona State University but has major league coaching experience with the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Two things can be true here: The Nationals didn’t poach any coaches or staff members from the organizations — the Dodgers, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees — that have best melded data and technology with traditional coaching in player development. But they still added a lot of outside voices, something Rizzo and De Jon Watson, the new player development director, promised when the reshaping began in November. The Nationals have typically chosen to reshuffle deck chairs instead of seeking external hires. Here, then, is a bit of a narrative shift.

Nationals, focused on the future, announce bolstered 2022 player development staff

Which hires stand out? Bringing on Joel Hanrahan, a former Nationals reliever, has intrigued a few people in the organization. Hanrahan, 40, was on the fast track with the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing last season as pitching coach for the Class AAA Indianapolis Indians. But he left Pittsburgh this winter to join the Nationals as pitching coach for the low-Class A Fredericksburg Nationals, two steps further from the majors.

It’s worth noting, though, that the minor league ladder doesn’t always work the same for coaches as it does for players. In some cases, organizations want their sharper hitting and pitching coaches at the lower levels, where players are more likely to make big fundamental changes and set their course. When The Post spoke with starter Wil Crowe in June, he raved about Hanrahan’s ability to spot mechanical issues, explain tweaks and, for Crowe, help increase velocity by preaching “hill connection” (keeping his back heel on the rubber for more of his delivery). Crowe, who was traded from the Nationals to Pirates in December 2021, said Hanrahan gave him tips he never heard as a prospect for Washington.

Other hires that drew some buzz among team officials this week: David Longley as director of player development technology and strategy (we’ll get to that in a second); Joe Dillon returning as hitting coordinator after two seasons as the Philadelphia Phillies’ hitting coach; and Crisp, a former big leaguer, as outfield/base-running coordinator (there’s hope that Crisp and Eric Young Jr., the Nationals’ new first base coach, will improve base running throughout the organization).

Which new role stands out most? The addition of Longley as the director of player development technology and strategy feels like the biggest step for the organization. His résumé is impressive: assistant director of baseball operations in San Diego for four years; before that, a staffer in major league operations who served as the team’s Spanish interpreter, giving him clubhouse experience; and before that, an assistant in player development and scouting for the Yankees. But more than anything, Longley represents an important step for the Nationals, who have long been behind on data and technology in the minor leagues.

This does not, however, mean Washington has caught up. Not in any sense. For many organizations, Longley would be leading a small- to medium-sized team of analysts and/or data-focused coaches and coordinators. His challenge now — and a challenge for the Nationals as a whole — is to change a player development culture that has been slow to adopt new-age practices in recent years. They always had to start somewhere.

What is a developmental coach? Quite literally, someone who will aid in development at the affiliates, a sort of bench coach focused more on fundamentals and teaching than in-game strategy. In 2021, the Nationals had only a manager, hitting coach, pitching coach, athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach at each site. The developmental coaches — Billy McMillon in AAA, Oscar Salazar in AA, Mark Harris in high-A, Carmela Jaime in low-A and Destin Hood in Florida — will provide an extra hand and whatever’s needed based on the roster. Harris, for example, is a skilled infield coach and could key on Jordy Barley, a young shortstop who may very well wind up in high-A Wilmington to begin the season.

Why does Dave Jauss’s name sound familiar? If you watched the Home Run Derby last summer, Jauss, 65, was the guy serving perfect pitch after perfect pitch to eventual champion Pete Alonso. Could come in handy if Juan Soto does the event again and needs to replace Kevin Long, who threw to Soto in Denver and is now the Phillies’ hitting coach. Jauss came to Washington from the New York Mets and will be a senior adviser in player development, sharing a title with longtime staple Spin Williams.

Loading...