Nationals Youngsters Wrap Up Instructional League Camp

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by Mike Feigen

As the Nationals concluded the regular season and some of their top prospects prepared for the Arizona Fall League, other Nationals farmhands headed to Viera, Fla., to take part in the Instructional League.

Instructional League provides an opportunity for young players to continue their development by maximizing their strengths and working through their weaknesses in a controlled environment. It also allows executives, coaches and scouts to evaluate the progress players made during the year, and give further instruction as they head into the offseason.

Roughly 45-50 players participated this year, according to Mark Scialabba, Nationals Director of Minor League Operations. They ranged in age from 16-year-old third baseman Anderson Franco, one of the Nationals’ newest international signings, to Double-A infielder Jason Martinson, who celebrated his 25th birthday this past week. The camp also included a number of 2013 draft picks, who have yet to participate in Spring Training.

Ross Detwiler made great progress in the Instructional League.

Ross Detwiler made great progress in the Instructional League.

“Overall, it was a good camp,” Scialabba said. “It was about three-and-a-half weeks long, so it’s not an extremely long period of time – but when we’re on the field, we play the game hard.”

The Instructional League schedule is also helpful for rehabilitating Major Leaguers. This year they had left-hander Ross Detwiler, who did very well in his continued rehab from a back injury. Scialabba said everything was a success during Detwiler’s time in Viera, where he headed during the final weeks of the big league club’s season and pitched in game situations.

“Ross threw the ball really well,” Scialabba said. “He finished the camp healthy. Outing to outing he improved, and his fastball velocity was there. We couldn’t ask for anything more from Ross.”

For players with less experience than Detwiler, the Instructional League also helps prepare them for the length of a full big league season. Many Minor Leaguers see their game action come to an end around Labor Day, so the extra few weeks of baseball can be essential to their development. The extra playing time can particularly benefit players like 2012 first-round pick Lucas Giolito, who came back from Tommy John surgery to throw 36.2 innings between the Rookie Gulf Coast League Nationals and Short-Season A Auburn Doubledays this year.

“(Lucas) did a great job,” Scialabba said of the 6-foot-6 righty. “His stuff is off the charts and he has an electric arm. He has to learn to put away hitters with all three pitches, continue his development with PFP (pitchers’ fielding practice), hold runners and control the strike zone. We’re really pleased with his progression so far.”

Two other pitchers who earned high praise following their Instructional League performances were 2013 top pick Jake Johansen and young Dominican hurler Jefry Rodriguez.

Lucas Giolito continued to impress in his first full season of professional ball.

Lucas Giolito continued to impress in his first full season of professional ball.

Johansen, selected in the second round out of Dallas Baptist University, dominated in his first taste of Minor League action. The right-hander compiled a 1.06 ERA in 10 starts for Short-Season A Auburn, striking out 44 batters and allowing just 22 hits in 42.1 innings. Rodriguez, 20, went 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA for the GCL champion Nationals squad during the 2013 season and continued his progression in the Instructional League. Scialabba said the lean, 6-foot-5 right-hander touched 96 miles per hour with a good curveball in Viera, giving Nats fans another young arm to keep an eye on for the future.

On the offensive side of the ball, Scialabba singled out 2013 third-rounder Drew Ward and 20-year-old catcher Pedro Severino as stars of the Instructional League camp.

“Drew Ward really shined,” Scialabba said of the 18-year-old third baseman, who completed high school a year early to enter the draft. “He’s mature beyond his years; not only physically, but mentally. He has very good plate discipline for a young player, with a very short stroke that stays in the zone for a long period of time.

“Pedro is a young catcher with tremendous makeup. He’s a high-energy guy who has worked really hard at learning the English language. He has a contact bat, but his value is going to be his defense. He has a cannon behind the plate.”

When camp wrapped up a week ago, the final step for the Nationals participants was to receive their offseason workout plans and get their nutritional programs in order. Most players will take a break from baseball and start hitting the weights in the next few weeks, before ramping up their baseball activity closer to Spring Training.

Scialabba also said some select players will return to Viera this November for a newly implemented winter conditioning program. The extra instruction will give the staff yet another opportunity to ensure the young talent throughout the organization stays on course for a successful 2014 season.

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