Coaches are a key to player development and the Washington Nationals just upgraded

As the farm rankings of the Washington Nationals system were getting published, the news was not good as evaluators dropped the Nats farm system from as high as No. 7 last year to an average of No. 15 this year. The best ranking came from Keith Law of The Athletic, and he dropped the Nats to 11th in his rankings today. Regardless of farm rankings, changes had to be made in the leadership of the player development system.

The team’s President of Baseball Operations and General Manager, Mike Rizzo, made numerous changes like not renewing the contract of his VP of Player Development, De Jon Watson, and he replaced Watson with Eddie Longosz — an internal promotion.

Maybe the last laugh is on Rizzo who once said that he really didn’t care about being No. 1 in farm rankings — and that his goal was winning championships. Well, Baseball America just ranked the Nats at 15th, a far cry from No. 1. Just a middle of the road farm system at No. 15, but some don’t feel like the rankings matter.

“…Our objective we have is to win championships — not to be №1 in Baseball America.”

— Rizzo said to applause and laughs by the fans gathered at the Ballpark Bash event at the end of 2022

Here is part of the problem with the farm rankings, the Nats did not graduate one player to the Majors from their Top-15 from last year, and they added immense talent from the draft, trades, and international free agency. When you go from 7th-to-15th, and add elite players like Dylan Crews along with Yohandy Morales, Travis Sykora and others from the draft, DJ Herz from a trade, and Victor Hurtado and Angel Feliz from international free agency — you would think the farm system would leap forward. Yes, Elijah Green, Robert Hassell, and TJ White all dropped in rankings, and Cade Cavalli, Jake Bennett, and Cole Henry were all top pitchers who were injured last year. However, there were also players like Brady House who had a monster year and jumped forward, and so did Jacob Young. While there were issues, a drop that far in farm rankings just did not make sense except for Law’s ranking at No. 11 seemed about right.

In the NL East, the farm systems were all in the 20’s except for the Mets and the Nationals. The Phillies, Braves are Marlins ranked 23rd, 28th, and 29th respectively in ESPN’s rankings from Kiley McDaniel and their staff. Still, the Nats are the only NL East team with two players in the Top-15 of all minor leaguers plus House is roughly around No. 50. Most evaluators described the Nats as a top-heavy system.

With Longosz in-charge of the system, he went out and made a lot of changes in his staff and especially at hitting coach and pitching coach. The depth of experience with résumés that include work on MLB coaching staffs, it really appears the Nats spent money while also adding some new positions. In fact the entire staff of roving coordinators have MLB experience except for Jeff Garber who was a minor league player for eight year and rising as high as Triple-A.

New Minor League Staff (sorted in alphabetical order):

· Rigo Beltran replaces Joel Hanrahan (more on Hanrahan’s new position below) as the Double-A pitching coach at Harrisburg. Beltran was the bullpen coach for the Cleveland Guardians and coached for nine years in their minor league organization. He was also the Mexican National Baseball Team’s pitching coach for the 2020 Olympics and World Baseball Classic in 2017.

· Tommy Everidge spent the last two years as the MLB hitting coach for the Oakland Athletics, and Everidge will serve as the system’s Minor League hitting coordinator. Before that, he worked eight seasons in Oakland’s farm system in various spots at a hitting coach. Everidge spent seven seasons in Oakland’s system as a player, eventually making his Major League debut in 2009, and was drafted from Sonoma State University.

· Niomar Gomez joins the coaching ranks after his five-year playing career in Washington’s Minor League system as a pitcher. He appeared in 55 games (38 as a starting pitcher) from 2017 to 2023, going 7–12 with a 5.32 ERA, and 180 strikeouts in 187.2 innings.

· Mike Habas named him as their hitting coach in Single-A Fredericksburg. He comes to the Nats after 5 years with the Milwaukee Brewers plus he worked at @DrivelineBB in the offseason as a hitting instructor. He has extensive baseball experience prior to the Brewers.

· Kylie Kain was promoted to the farm system’s Nutrition Coordinator after joining the organization in 2023 as the performance dietitian for Triple-A Rochester. Kain was the first ever female field staff member for the Red Wings. Previously, she was the owner of Kylie Kain Nutrition in Washington, D.C., a private practice to help clients and athletes reach health and performance goals, while also working as a part-time fitness coach. Kain earned both a Master and Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Physical Performance from St. Louis University. She earned her first degree in philosophy from Colgate University in 2014 where she was also a member of the lacrosse team.

· Jeff Livesey returns as the Nats hitting coach at Double-A Harrisburg Senators going full circle back to 1996 when he was there when that team was an affiliate of the Montreal Expos. He is a former MLB hitting coach with the Marlins and was most recently their minor league hitting coordinator. Livesey has extensive experience as a coach and player, and his father also played professional baseball.

· Chris Prieto joins the Nats as their minor league Outfield/Baserunning Coordinator. He was with Tampa Bay for the past two season as their first base coach. Prior to joining their Major League staff, he served as their Minor League outfield/baserunning coordinator in 2020 and 2021. Prieto has nearly 30 years of pro baseball experience. He graduated from Carmel (CA) High School and attended San Jose City College and the University of Nevada. He was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 24th round of the 1993 June Amateur Draft.

· Jason Wood joins the Nats’ as the minor league infield coordinator. While not related to top prospect James Wood, we will certainly mix up these names. He joins the Nats organization after spending the last four seasons (2020–23) with the San Francisco Giants as their Minor League infield coordinator. Prior to his time with the Giants, he worked 11 seasons (2008–19) in the Texas Rangers system, spending the last nine as a manager across various levels. In 2014, Wood was named the Texas League Manager of the Year after leading Double-A Frisco to a league-best 80 wins. In 2012 and 2013 as the manager of High-A Myrtle Beach, Baseball America cited Wood as the top managerial prospect in the Carolina League. Wood has an extensive pro baseball record boing back to 1991 when he was drafted out of Fresno.

The entire Minor League staff:

AAA: Matt LeCroy (Manager), Rafael Chaves (Pitching Coach), Brian Daubach (Hitting Coach), Billy McMillon (Development Coordinator)

AA: Delino DeShields (Manager), Rigo Beltran (Pitching Coach), Jeff Livesey (Hitting Coach), Oscar Salazar (Development Coordinator)

High-A: Mario Lisson (Manager), Mark DiFelice (Pitching Coach), Delwyn Young (Hitting Coach), Mark Harris (Development Coordinator)

Single-A: Jake Lowery (Manager), Justin Lord (Pitching Coach), Mike Habas (Hitting Coach), Carmelo Jaime (Development Coordinator)

MiLB Coordinators: Bob Henley (fielding), Sam Narron (pitching), Tommy Everidge (hitting), Randy Knorr (catcher), Jeff Garber (fundamentals), Chris Prieto (OF/baserunning), Jason Wood (infield), and Joel Hanrahan (rehab pitching)

We had considered Hanrahan as the Nats’ best coach in the system last year based on feedback we were receiving in regards to his work with players. He will take on the important role immediately of handling two of the organization’s best pitching prospects in Cavalli and Bennett who are both returning from UCL surgeries last year. Cavalli will actually pitch in games this year per the plan, while Bennett probably will not see game action.

With Beltran replacing Hanrahan at Double-A Harrisburg, the system gets another pitching coach with MLB staff experience. Both Habas and Livesey join affiliates, and they bring experience as hitting coaches on MLB staffs. The risk with hiring coaches with MLB experience is that these jobs are just a placeholder for them until a better job opens up — but we shall see what happens in the future.

The quality of the new staff added is impressive, and a fine job by Rizzo and Longosz in what we hope will be a player development system that takes large steps forward.

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