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Nationals fire Tripp Keister, a longtime manager in their minor league system

De Jon Watson, who is finishing his first season as Washington’s director of player development, made the call about Tripp Keister’s status with the organization. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

The Washington Nationals fired minor league manager Tripp Keister on Monday, ending his ­11-year run in the organization. Keister, a manager for his entire time with Washington, led the Class AA Harrisburg Senators for the past two seasons. The decision was ultimately made by De Jon Watson, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. Watson, who is finishing his first season as the club’s director of player development, declined to comment.

As word spread through the organization this week, many were frustrated by Keister’s dismissal, according to three people with knowledge of the situation. In a little over a decade, he managed the Gulf Coast League Nationals, the low-Class A Hagerstown Suns, the high-Class A Potomac Nationals and the Senators. Before joining the Nationals, he was an amateur scout for the San Diego Padres, an assistant coach at the University of South Carolina and the head coach at Delaware State and Wesley College.

He was, in short, a staple of Washington’s player development staffs when they were run by Doug Harris or Mark Scialabba. Keister’s energy turned Manager Dave Martinez into a fan when Keister helped during major league spring trainings. But changes were expected once Watson took control last fall. In July, Watson noted how Harrisburg’s losing record showed a talent gap in a system that then got another jolt with the Juan Soto trade return.

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Keister declined to comment on his departure. General Manager Mike Rizzo, who would have to approve the firing, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The Senators finished 52-85, the worst record in the Eastern League. In 2021, they had the second-worst record at 42-76. One could argue, though, that minor league managers should not be assessed by wins and losses, especially when they are given a thin roster in what was a bottom-ranked farm system. According to multiple people with knowledge of Watson’s decision, there was a disconnect between Keister and Micah Franklin, whom Watson hired as the Senators’ hitting coach.

Since Watson assumed his current role, the Nationals have made overdue strides toward modernizing their player development operation. Last spring, they hired David Longley as director of data and technology in the minors. The staff grew by 14 positions with additional coaches, coordinators, a nutritionist and a mental skills coordinator. Washington brought in personnel from a number of other clubs, bucking a long-standing trend of rearranging deck chairs instead of filling holes from the outside. And the club is in the process of installing Hawk-Eye camera systems at Nationals Park and all five of their affiliate facilities in West Palm Beach, Harrisburg, Fredericksburg, Wilmington and Rochester, hoping for an influx of player movement data.

But Keister’s firing has worried those who want a mix of new blood and loyalty to tenured coaches and coordinators. Of course, those can be clashing pursuits, and it is not Watson’s job to keep someone around just because they have been with the team for a while. Still, two people described Keister as organized and willing to learn about analytics and tech, despite having a traditional baseball background.

A year ago, before Watson replaced Scialabba as head of player development, the club fired high-A manager Tommy Shields, outfield/base running coordinator Gary Thurman, hitting coach Brian Rupp and pitching coach Pat Rice. At least so far, this September’s shake-up is not as widespread.

With Keister no longer in his role, the Nationals’ minor league managers are Matthew LeCroy (Class AAA Rochester Red Wings in 2022), Mario Lisson (high-Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks), Jake Lowery (low-Class A Fredericksburg Nationals), Luis Ordaz (Florida Complex League) and Sandy Martinez (Dominican Summer League).