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Nationals expand their minor league staff again heading into 2023 season

The Nationals hired Delino DeShields, a former first base coach for the Cincinnati Reds, to manage the Class AA Harrisburg Senators. (David Zalubowski/AP)
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The Washington Nationals on Wednesday announced their minor league staff for this season as they continue to invest in improving a player development system that for years has lagged behind.

The Nationals announced several new roles, including an assistant director of player development technology and strategy (Patrick Coghlan), a player development analyst (Allen Ho), two biomechanists (Bill Johnson and Brittany Mills) and performance analysts at each minor league affiliate. They also added an assistant for minor league operations and a pair of clubhouse assistants.

The Nationals hired Delino DeShields as manager of the Class AA Harrisburg Senators to replace Tripp Keister, who was fired in September after 11 years with the organization. There was also shuffling among the assistants: Most notably, former all-star reliever Joel Hanrahan became the pitching coach for Harrisburg, flipping roles with Justin Lord, who was moved to the Class A Fredericksburg Nationals.

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This is the second straight offseason Washington expanded its minor league staff, which shows a commitment to building on what was the smallest player development staff in Major League Baseball two years ago. At the general managers meetings in November, Mike Rizzo said the pandemic had an effect on the Nationals’ staffing numbers, but his hope was the minor league staff would grow and eventually exceed its numbers from before the coronavirus.

“It takes time to get it right,” he said. “It took us some time to get away from it, so it’s going to take us that much time to get back into it. And I think that we’re definitely on the right path. … We feel good about the direction that it’s gone and the leap that we’ve taken from one year to the other.”

Last year, the Nationals hired David Longley from the San Diego Padres to be their director of player development technology and strategy. After Coghlan’s hire this offseason, Longley will reunite with a familiar face: Coghlan had worked with the Padres since 2014 and most recently was a pro scout with San Diego.

The Nationals are adding personnel to better use data and technology

The Nationals also hired more minor league coaches last season, including a developmental coach at each affiliate. This season, the performance analyst at each affiliate will break down data from Hawk-Eye technology. MLB switched from TrackMan radars to Hawk-Eye cameras ahead of the 2020 season to collect data for its Statcast platform. The devices, which track player movement, were placed at Nationals Park, the organization’s minor league stadiums and its facility at West Palm Beach at the end of last summer.

Following the Juan Soto trade in August, the Nationals arguably have one of baseball’s stronger minor league systems. Right-hander Jarlin Susana and outfielders James Wood and Robert Hassell III — headliners from the trade — join Washington’s past two first-round draft picks, outfielder Elijah Green and shortstop Brady House, as well as Cristhian Vaquero, an 18-year-old Cuban outfielder who signed for a club-record $4.925 million bonus in 2022. Washington also has right-hander Cole Henry, who quickly rose through the system before needing thoracic outlet surgery late last season.

Among those prospects, only Hassell and Henry have reached even high Class A, meaning most of those players have a long way to go before they reach Nationals Park. How well the Nationals’ minor league staff helps them grow could determine how quickly they get there.