After a long, slow winter with precious little going on, the Nationals at last made news on multiple fronts last week. And wouldn’t you know who happened to be on vacation as this all happened?
Yep, it never fails. If you want news, all you’ve got to do is book me and my family on a flight out of town, then sit back and wait for the alerts to drop.
Many thanks, as always, to Bobby Blanco and Pete Kerzel for handling the various items in my absence. But now that I’m back to work, I figured I’d share some thoughts of my own on each subject. …
* Nats sign top Latin American prospect
The international signing period opened with a bang, the Nationals officially acquiring top Cuban outfielder Cristhian Vaquero for a club record $4.925 million bonus.
That’s a monster deal for the 17-year-old Vaquero, considered to be one of the top two available prospects eligible to be signed during this period. (Consider that Juan Soto only received $1.5 million when he signed in 2015.)
None of this means, of course, Vaquero is guaranteed to be as good or somehow better than Soto. He’s 17 years old, for crying out loud, and it’s impossible to predict these kids’ careers before they’ve played their first professional game.
But Vaquero, by all accounts, is a special player. He’s a switch-hitter who hits for average and power. He’s already 6-foot-3, 185 pounds, with plenty of room to continue to grow. He runs fast, can play center field and has a strong arm. What’s not to like? (Aside from the fact he’s already represented by Scott Boras.)
Again, there are no sure things when it comes to 17-year-old international prospects. But this is exactly the type of move the Nationals need to make. Yes, they need to rebuild through the draft. But they also need to continue to stockpile their system with quality international players, an area in which they’ve actually had more success over the last decade than on the domestic front.
* Player development staff announced
We had been waiting for this one for a while, knowing there were changes in store, some folks shifting into new positions and some new folks joining the organization for roles that either previously existed or were just created for them.
The end result: A larger, more well-rounded player development system that features some familiar names in different jobs and some familiar names from outside the organization now a part of the system.
Most notable to me were the additions of coaches with considerable experience with other franchises. Like Dave Jauss, the longtime major league coach who spent last season as Mets bench coach (not to mention Pete Alonso’s near-perfect BP pitcher in the Home Run Derby). Jauss, whose late father Bill was a legendary sportswriter at the Chicago Tribune, joins the Nationals as a senior advisor for player development, joining former big league pitching coach Spin Williams in that role. What will he do? Basically, whatever the organization needs from him, visiting all the minor league affiliates and sharing his expertise with prospects throughout the system.
Joe Dillon, the Nats’ assistant hitting coach in 2018-19, returns to the organization after two seasons as Phillies hitting coach. He’ll now coordinate the Nationals’ minor league hitting program, no small task. He’ll work under former third base coach Bob Henley, now the minor league field coordinator.
Dillon and Troy Gingrich are now handling the hitting program, with Sam Narron now serving as pitching coordinator after serving as pitching coach at Double-A Harrisburg. They’re joined by three new coordinators. Former big league outfielder Coco Crisp is the new outfield and baserunning coordinator. Former Giants coach Jose Alguacil is the new infield coordinator. Old pal Randy Knorr returns to his minor league roots as catching coordinator. And former big league third baseman Bill Mueller takes over as quality control coordinator.
The various affiliates have some new people in charge, but the most recognizable name probably is Joel Hanrahan. The former Nationals reliever (dealt along with Lastings Milledge to the Pirates way back in 2009 for Sean Burnett and Nyjer Morgan) had been working his way up Pittsburgh’s ladder as a minor league pitching coach and was seen as a potential addition to the big league staff someday soon. Now he’ll be pitching coach at Single-A Fredericksburg, helping groom some of the Nats’ top prospects while potentially setting himself up to someday join the staff in D.C.
And finally are the additions of brand-new, off-the-field positions that are no less important than the actual coaching staff. David Longley comes from the Padres to serve as director of player development technology and strategy, helping implement a universal analytics program to the entire farm system. Dana Sinclair is the newly created mental skills coordinator, helping young players through all the challenges they may encounter. And Emily Kaley is the new minor league nutritionist, another growing area of importance in the sport.
Put it all together, and the Nationals now have a player development staff that is larger and more diverse while emphasizing aspects of the game that haven’t received as much attention around here in the past. Hard to find fault with any of that.
* Frandsen hired as MASN game analyst
Speaking of familiar names from the past, welcome back to the Nationals (and welcome to MASN for the first time), Kevin Frandsen, named last week as Bob Carpenter’s new analyst on game broadcasts.
You may remember Frandsen from the 2014 season, when he more than capably served as a utility man, playing third base, second base, first base and even left field (making a spectacular play on a ball that caromed off the wall in Houston one night).
You may also remember him from the celebratory clubhouse in Atlanta the night the Nats clinched the division title, when he had quite the memorable response to Dan Kolko’s line about a cold beverage going “down the wrong pipe.”
What you should know about Frandsen, though, is that he’s really prepped well for this job since retiring as a player. He’s done radio in San Francisco and Philadelphia, not to mention national work on MLB Network Radio. And now he’s ready to step into the lead TV analyst role here, where I would expect a full combination of insight, enthusiasm and humor.
Seriously, Franny is one of the good ones, and if you need evidence, just listen to the folks in Philly who are disappointed about his departure.