Last week, I was down in Viera at the Nats’ spring training complex. I had a chance to meet most of the club’s front office staff, including the player development team, which is now headed by Doug Harris. I came away impressed by Harris and his team, and convinced they have a cohesive plan of attack to elevate the Nationals’ minor league and player development system.
Harris, who was brought on in the offseason to revitalize the system of player development, was gracious enough to take time from his schedule to speak with me. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
WF: Here we are, three weeks from opening day. Give us your sense of things so far in the spring.
DH: We are well on our way to building a new brand here with the Nationals. Obviously, this is an ongoing work in progress. When I was brought on, we knew we had to do several things, and I know we have made great strides on all of them. We had the well publicized breakdown with our situation in Latin America [more on that below], which put additional pressure on us to be exceptional in the amateur draft. Having said that, we did make a bigger commitment to the draft, and we are beginning to see the payback. Not just with guys like [Stephen] Strasburg and [Drew] Storen, but all up and down the system, we are excited by some of the things we are seeing. We see much more competition in this camp, and a real change in the culture of expectations. There will be no more graduating to the next level; our guys will earn their promotions. We want it to be harder to be a Washington National than it was two years ago.
WF: Could you assess the overall level of talent in the system as it stands today?
DH: Our focus has definitely been on pitching, and it shows. We have a real volume of quality arms in the system. In the long run, that will pay dividends. I firmly believe that pitching is the currency of the game, and a depth of arms can help you make deals to get other pieces to fill out your roster. With that depth of pitching in place, we can afford to maybe focus a little more on position players in the drafts to come.
WF: I have read a lot of positive feedback on the changes being made down in Latin America. Can you elaborate on what is going on down there?
DH: We brought in Johnny DiPuglia, and he has paid immediate dividends. Johnny and I share a common vision and a commitment to the importance of pulling players from that region. With Johnny, there will be a greater trust of our organiztion; he brings an unmatched integrity. We have already begun to reap the fruits of his labors down there. Rafael Martin is a guy who was coveted by a lot of teams; Johnny and his staff did a great job representing the Nationals and convinced Rafael to come to Washington. It is just so important to have an effective system down there. The history of the draft shows that you can get real depth in several critical areas [middle infielders, power arms, and catchers, he later elaborated]. So we are thrilled with the job that Johnny has already done, and excited for all that will come from his operation.
WF: Gary Cathcart joins the Potomac Nationals this year. What has been your impression of Gary so far?
/* Style Definitions */
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
We could not be more excited about Gary. He has a great energy for the game,
deep knowledge and a detailed approach.
We know he can get the most out of our players in Potomac.
WF: There has been a lot of buzz surrounding a couple guys who could very well start 2010 in Potomac: Derek Norris and Steve Lombardozzi. Could you talk a little about what they have shown you so far in camp?
DH: Norris is obviously the more publicized of the two. He is such an advanced hitter, which excites everyone in the organization. He is working diligently to get better defensively, which is important. We all see catcher as his fastest track to the big leagues. He is such a great worker and absorbs so much, we think he has a bright future and a chance to be special. Lombardozzi is a little bit the opposite. He isn’t a guy who is going to wow you with his physical tools, but he has been equally impressive. He is the consummate pro – a real leader by example. He reminds me of Chase Utley; he is the kind of guy any manager would want to have on his club.
We will bring you more of this interview (including Harris’s thoughts on Stephen Strasburg) as we get closer to Opening Day.