Matt Williams is the new manager of the Nationals. Doug Fister is onboard as a newcomer to the starting pitching rotation. And veteran reliever Jerry Blevins is now a key lefty in the bullpen.
Washington made several changes since the end of last season to the major league team. But there have been some other changes, and although they are perhaps not as noticeable to the average fan, they will go far in the future of the team -- notably in player development.
Doug Harris was promoted from director of player development to assistant general manager/vice president of player development, while Mark Scialabba was moved up to take over Harris' old role as director of player development. Tony Beasley, who was the manager of Triple-A Syracuse and was also previously a Washington coach, is now a field coordinator in the minor leagues.
Harris and Beasley have deep ties in the mid-Atlantic region. A native of Carlisle, Pa., Harris was a pitcher at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., during the 1980s and later played for the Bowie Baysox as a minor leaguer in the Orioles' farm system in 1995 and 1996. He also pitched in the minors for the Royals and Marlins.
Harris could be seen in a golf cart going back and forth between the minor league facility and Gulf Coast Stadium during spring training in Viera, Fla.
"I am primarily on the minor league side with a lot of trips back and forth during the course of the day," Harris told ESPN 980 March 15. "The bulk of my time is spent on the minor league side."
Another JMU connection to the Nats is minor league field instructor Jeff Garber, who was college teammates with Harris with the Dukes. Garber was a minor league infielder with the Royals.
Beasley is a native of Fredericksburg, Va., and grew up in Bowling Green, Va., between Richmond, Va., and Fredericksburg. He played in college at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., and was a minor leaguer in the Baltimore system. He played with the Frederick Keys in 1990 and 1991 before he was traded to Pittsburgh. Beasley never made the majors as a player, but has been on big league coaching staffs with Pittsburgh and Washington.
Scialabba is the only one of the group without ties to Virginia. He grew up in New York and played baseball at Division III Williams in Massachusetts. He then got an MBA and master's in sports management at Massachusetts and in 2005 was the assistant general manager of Brewster in the Cape Cod League, a top amateur circuit for college players. Scialabba was named the Nationals director of minor league operations in 2009.
"So far, there is not a lot of change with what we are trying to accomplish in our respective roles," Scialabba said March 18. "Over time, it will continue to evolve."
He said it was an honor to work with Bob Boone, a former major league catcher who is the vice president of player development for the Nationals. Boone is a regular at minor league games involving Nationals farm clubs during the season.
Scialabba said that in the past, he was at Nationals Park for most home games, then went out on the road to watch the Washington minor league teams. He said that could change some this year as he sees more of the minor league affiliates.
Speaking from the minor league complex, he commented on some of the top prospects in the organization.
On outfielder Brian Goodwin (Nationals' No. 3 prospect per Baseball America): "He has had a good spring training," Scialabba said. "Being in big league camp allowed him to see veterans go about their business. He picked their brain. He tried to learn how to pay attention to the details; that will continue to help his development. He is a very talented individual offensively and defensively."
Goodwin hit .252 with 19 steals last year for Double-A Harrisburg. He hit .200 in 25 at bats with the big club during spring training this year before he was sent to the minor league complex.
On infielder Matt Skole (No. 4): "Matt had a good spring as well," Scialabba said. "He continues to show power and a solid approach at the plate. Certainly he is one of our players who has a bright future in Washington. We just wanted him to get as many at bats as possible."
Skole injured his wrist and elbow while playing first base during his second game with Potomac last season and missed the rest of the year. Skole hit .333 in 15 at bats with the Nationals this spring before he was sent to the minor league complex.
On pitcher Jake Johansen (No. 8): "He came to start our development program early," Scialabba said. "He did a great job. He is a sponge, learning everything about the game. He continues to refine his secondary pitches, plus holding on runners and fielding."
Johansen, a second-round draft pick in 2013, was 1-1 with an ERA of 1.06 during 10 games for Auburn last year and 0-2, 5.79 during two games with Hagerstown.
On pitcher Sammy Solis (No. 6): "He opened up a lot of eyes on the major league side," Scialabba said. "He was pounding the zone with his stuff."
Solis was 2-1 with an ERA of 3.43 during 13 games for high Single-A Potomac last season. He did not allow a run in four innings with the big club during spring training.
On pitcher Matt Purke: "He is healthy," Scialabba said, "and he has built up his arm strength. We feel we are starting to see the real Matt Purke. He has been mentally tough through this process."
Purke was 1-1 with a 2.48 ERA during six starts last year for Hagerstown and 5-3, 4.43 during 12 starts for Potomac. He had an ERA of 11.81 during three spring training games with the big league club. Purke pitched 15.1 innings in 2012 before he had shoulder surgery.
Williams announced March 19 that Stephen Strasburg would be the Opening Day starter.
"I definitely would want to focus on making starts in the playoffs more so than an Opening Day start," Strasburg told reporters March 20.
On March 20, the Nationals gave right-handed picther Luis Ayala his unconditional release, and assigned right-handed pitcher Ross Ohlendorf, catcher Jhonatan Solano, infielder Zach Walters and right-handed pitcher Christian Garcia to Triple-A Syracuse.
The Nationals also reassigned right-handed pitcher Manny Delcarmen, first baseman Brock Peterson and infielder Will Rhymes to their minor league camp. Ayala is reportedly going to sign with the Orioles, for whom he was 5-5 with a 2.64 ERA in 2012 and 1-0, 9.00 during two games last season. He also pitched for the Braves last year.