The Arizona Fall League is known as the “finishing school” for the game’s top prospects. Over the course of the season, we will give readers a chance to get to know the players representing the Nationals as members of the Mesa Solar Sox.
Next up: right-hander Neil Holland.
Holland appeared in a career-high 46 games between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse in 2014, going 7-4 with a 3.40 ERA (29 ER/76.2 IP), including 63 strikeouts. He earned Eastern League All-Star honors for his efforts out of the Harrisburg bullpen in 2014.
Holland features a sidearm delivery that he started using during his junior year at the University of Louisville. He has appeared in eight games for the Mesa Solar Sox during this year’s Arizona Fall League season.
We recently spoke with the 2010 11th round pick about his season and experience in Arizona.
Can you describe your experience so far in Arizona?
My experience in the Arizona Fall League has been amazing. I’ve enjoyed everything about it. The facilities, fields, the cities. Everything. It’s been a great experience.
How does it feel to put on the Nationals uniform every night?
I feel incredibly honored to put on the Nationals jersey out here. It just makes me realize even more that I’m close to my dream, and with a really good organization.
What have you/are you going to use the AFL to work on? What are your goals?
There are a lot of good hitters are out here with good approaches at such a young age. One big thing, being a sidearmer, is getting ground balls. I’ve learned to throw down in the zone to create ground balls. I’ve also worked on a new changeup, which is coming along pretty well, as well as a lower arm slot on my slider. These are all good, positive things to work on in the offseason.
How have you been adjusting to the “pace of play” rules that are being implemented in the AFL?
I feel like it took everyone a few games to feel comfortable with the new rules implemented, but I seem to be getting used to it. It doesn’t bother me too much, anyways, because I work fast. But there are still some things about the rule I have a hard time getting on board with.
What has it been like, getting to know your Mesa teammates/the other top prospects in the game?
I didn’t know exactly what to expect meeting all my new teammates and having to get to know each other so quick but it’s been surprisingly great! All the guys have been awesome, especially the bullpen guys.
What have you done on your off days?
I’ve gone golfing a few times on my off days and watched a lot of football, which is a new concept for us ballplayers, always having Sundays off each week. I enjoy playing, but definitely enjoy the off days just to relax.
I starting throwing side arm my junior year of college. I wasn’t having success at the University of Louisville my first two years throwing over the top and was getting ready to transfer.
Right before I was getting ready to transfer, my throwing partner (also one of our captains) suggested that I go side-armed because I would sometimes throw him some side-armed pitches that were really good and moved a lot. He told my pitching coach that I should try a bullpen that way, and it ended up working out better than we all imagined. I became the closer basically my whole junior year, and the rest is history.
There are two coaches on the Mesa staff with significant Big League experience (Ron Villone and Matt Wise). What, if anything, have you learned working with them for a few weeks?
Both are amazing coaches who have taught me a lot since I’ve been out here. They are both laid back and approachable, with a lot of knowledge, and you can pick their brain at any time. I’ve had a lot of good talks with both Wise and Villone after a bad outing and they helped me out a lot. They’re great coaches who know the game and also know a lot about the mental side of baseball.
The AFL is generally known as a “hitter’s league.” Have you seen that and has your approach changed based on the quality of hitters this league produces?
My approach hasn’t really changed since I’ve been out here, despite the good hitters I’ve been facing. I’ve always been known for being a ground ball thrower so I’ve been doing that, as well as working on my changeup. I go at the guys just like I went at the hitters during the season in Double-A and Triple-A — just trying to keep the ball low and work fast.
Is there an added level of comfort for you, and the other pitchers, having Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino behind the plate, fellow Nats catchers?
Absolutely, the Nationals pitchers are pretty spoiled having our own catchers here in the Fall League, and I’ve gotten on the same page with them very quickly. I also feel very comfortable throwing to them because they always know what I want to throw. Both Kieboom and Severino have been great with that.
You, Matt Grace and Derek Self have spent some time together in the bullpen over the years. Do you have any stories that you can share about those guys?
I’ve known both Derek and Matt for a while through my baseball career. I played with Derek two years in college too, so we know each other very well and have had a lot of good times together. Derek and I know how to push each other’s buttons, so we do make fun of each other a lot, but it’s all in good fun.
I’ve known Matt all five years I’ve played and we’ve gotten moved up together each year. He’s one of my really good friends so it was pretty cool that he and I got invited out here, too. We’ve roomed with each other off-and-on each year, and we’re also living with each other out here. So, whether it’s going out to eat, golfing, or going to the field, we’ve basically done it for five years straight now. I’ll be excited to finally get away from that guy when the offseason hits!
by Kyle Brostowitz
On Wednesday, three of the Washington Nationals’ minor league affiliates will kick off the 2014 postseason. Here’s a brief preview of each series:
Syracuse Chiefs (81-62), Northern Division Champion
Pawtucket Red Sox (79-65), Wild Card
Season Series: 8-8
Series Scoring: 66-56 (Syracuse)
Game Three starter, RHP Mitch Lively, stymied the Red Sox late in the season, going 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA (4 ER/11.0 IP) with 17 strikeouts and just four walks in his final two starts of 2014. In his final outing, on Aug. 30, Lively struck out a career-high 11 batters to propel the Chiefs to the division-clinching 6-2 victory over the Red Sox.
Former Nationals outfielder Corey Brown will face off against his former teammates in this best-of-five series. Brown went 10-for-33 (.303) with two doubles, four homers, six RBI, three walks and 5 runs scored in nine games against Syracuse in 2014. Brown played 357 games for the Chiefs from 2011-2013.
Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 3 at Pawtucket, 7:05pm: RHP Taylor Hill vs. LHP Edwin Escobar
Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 4 at Pawtucket, 7:05pm: RHP Scott McGregor vs. RHP Matt Barnes
Game 3: Friday, Sept. 5 at Syracuse, 7:00pm: RHP Mitch Lively vs. LHP Henry Owens
Game 4: Saturday, Sept. 6 at Syracuse, 7:00pm: LHP Aaron Laffey vs. TBD **If necessary**
Game 5: Sunday, Sept. 7 at Syracuse, 1:00pm: RHP Paolo Espino vs. TBD **If necessary**
Potomac Nationals (78-58), Northern Division Champion
Lynchburg Hillcats (68-71), Wild Card
Season Series: 12-7 (Potomac)
Series Scoring: 96-90 (Potomac)
Potomac enters the postseason having won 14 of its last 19 games to finish out the season. Moreover, the Nationals have won four straight against Lynchburg, including a three-game sweep of the Hillcats, Aug. 19-20.
P-Nats second baseman Tony Renda claimed the Carolina League batting title, hitting .307 with 21 doubles, four triples, 47 RBI, 19 stolen bases and 75 runs scored. In 13 games against Lynchburg, Renda went 16-for-49 (.327) with a double, two RBI, three stole bases, four walks and 12 runs scored.
Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 3 at Potomac: LHP Hector Silvestre vs. TBD
Game 2: Thursday, Sept. 4 at Potomac: RHP Brian Rauh vs. TBD
Game 3: Friday, Sept. 5 at Potomac: RHP Ian Dickson vs. TBD
South Atlantic League
Hagerstown Suns (87-53), Second Half Northern Division Champion
Greensboro Grasshoppers (87-53), First Half Northern Division Champion
Season Series: 6-5 (Hagerstown)
Series Scoring: 69-66 (Hagerstown)
RHP Reynaldo Lopez enters the postseason having allowed just one earned run in his last 39.2 South Atlantic League innings pitched, going 4-1 with a 0.23 ERA, with opponents batting just .115 against him. In his lone start against Greensboro on Aug. 19, Lopez fired 6.0 scoreless innings, allowing two hits while walking one and striking out four.
South Atlantic League MVP, INF Wilmer Difo, hit .460 (23-for-50) with a double, three triples, two homers, 10 RBI, two walks, three stolen bases and 13 runs scored in 11 games against Greensboro in 2014.
Game 1: Wednesday, Sept. 3 at Hagerstown: RHP Wander Suero vs. Domingo German
Game 2: Friday, Sept. 5 at Greensboro: RHP Reynaldo Lopez vs. LHP Chris Sadberry
Game 3 Saturday, Sept. 6 at Greensboro: RHP Nick Pivetta vs. RHP Kyle Fischer
Wilmer Difo named South Atlantic League MVP; Lucas Giolito named Most Outstanding Pitcher & Top Prospect
by Amanda Comak
Two more Washington Nationals prospects earned end-of-year accolades on Thursday with the South Atlantic League announcing Single-A Hagerstown infielder Wilmer Difo as the league’s Most Valuable Player and right-hander Lucas Giolito the league’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and Most Outstanding Major League Prospect. Additionally, Suns center fielder Rafael Bautista was named to the SAL post-season All-Star team and Single-A Potomac manager Tripp Keister was named the Carolina League Manager of the Year.
Difo, a mid-season SAL Northern Division All-Star and post-season All-Star second baseman, currently leads or is tied for the league lead in hits (174) and total bases (257). Hitting .321 this season, good for sixth in the league among qualifiers, Difo has worked to a .366 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage for the Suns.
The 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic is among the SAL leaders in RBI (88, third), stolen bases (49, second), runs scored (90, tied for second), extra-base hits (50, fourth) and most plate appearances per strikeout (9.55, fifth).
Giolito, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 11 prospect in all of baseball at mid-season, went 10-2 with a 2.20 ERA for the Suns in 20 games this season. Over 98.0 innings he allowed 28 runs (24 earned) on 70 hits, including seven homers. Giolito, the Nationals’ first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, walked 28 and struck out 110.
The 20 year old was named the SAL Pitcher of the Week on two occasions this season and represented the Nationals at the Sirius/XM All-Star Futures Game, along with outfielder Michael A. Taylor, in Minneapolis in July.
Bautista, like Difo, was named to the mid-season Northern Division All-Star team as well. The 21-year-old currently leads the league in stolen bases (66), and is tied with Difo for second in runs scored. Bautista is hitting .283 this year with a .337 on-base percentage and .373 slugging percentage. His 66 stolen bases are a Suns single-season record since the team has been a member of the South Atlantic League.
Keister managed Potomac to the first- and second-half Northern Division titles, clinching the second-half crown on Wednesday night. With a 75-55 record this season, Potomac will host Game 1 of the Northern Division Championship Series on Sept. 3 at Pfitzner Stadium.