Depth keeps Nats from panicking at Deadline
From Lombardozzi to Moore, fill-ins have club overcoming injuries
MILWAUKEE -- The Nationals' organizational depth has been on full display at the Major League level throughout the season, helping the club overcome injuries en route to a 61-40 record that's the best in the Majors.
And that depth may play an equally important, if somewhat unnoticed and unheralded, role as Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches.
Doug Harris, Washington's director of player development, was one of many front-office executives joining the club at Miller Park for this past weekend's series against the Brewers. Harris was in Milwaukee to take part in meetings in preparation for the Deadline, but he couldn't help but take pride in the way the Nationals' Minor League system has pumped out the talent that's permitted the Major League club to claim first place in the National League East.
It's helped the Nats sustain slumps and major injuries, and it's part of the reason that manager Davey Johnson said he would feel comfortable standing pat at the Deadline despite perceived weaknesses in pitching, the middle infield and behind the plate. It's not just the way those young players are performing on the field, either; the chemistry in a Washington clubhouse full of players who seem to genuinely get along is just as important.
"You try to have a vision and you try to prepare for the what-ifs, and fortunately, we've been able to do it," said Harris, standing in the visitors' clubhouse in Milwaukee on Sunday morning. "We felt like we were deep, and we've actually been able to absorb the injuries pretty well because of the depth -- not only here, but we've had some in the Minor Leagues. That's something that's really come to fruition.
"To see them come up here and compete at the level that they're competing at, when we're in the middle of this thing at this point in the year, it's a tremendous feeling."
All it took was a quick look around the room. Bryce Harper. Steve Lombardozzi. Corey Brown. Tyler Moore. Taking it a step further, 17 players on the active roster were selected by the Nationals in either the First-Year Player Draft or the Rule 5 Draft, or spent time in their farm system following a trade.
The impact has been obvious, with Washington calling up eight players from its farm system at some point this season: Harper, Brown, Moore, Sandy Leon, Jhonatan Solano, Carlos Maldonado, Ryan Perry and John Lannan. Stepping in due to injuries to expected regulars like Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Chad Tracy, Chien-Ming Wang and Ian Desmond, they've done more than just fill up roster spots.
"With all the injuries we've had, young guys have really stood up and picked up a lot of slack," Johnson said. "Harper and Lombo, Tyler Moore, Brown, the catchers -- the list goes on and on. That's just a tribute to [general manager Mike] Rizzo and the organization and the job they've done getting this organization prepared to take the next step."
"They're pretty good; they're down two or three of their best guys," noted Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, referring to Ramos, Werth and Desmond. "That's pretty amazing for that team to be that good and be down those three key guys right there. Pretty impressive."
In dealing with a more timely matter, the Nats can thank their depth for keeping them from being pressured into a Trade Deadline deal.
There has been speculation that the Nationals will acquire another starter to fill whatever void Stephen Strasburg leaves once he reaches his innings limit. But Washington has Lannan and Wang waiting in the wings to make the necessary starts whenever Strasburg is shut down.
The relative lack of middle infielders came to light when Desmond went down with a left oblique injury, but Johnson pointed to utility man Mark DeRosa, Triple-A Syracuse infielder Josh Johnson and Double-A Harrisburg infielder Zach Walters.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's not a growing need right now," the manager said late last week. "I know Rizzo is big on insurance, probably more so than me, but I like the cast of characters I've got."
The Nationals have taken great pride in developing that depth. Harris pointed to the hard work of the club's Minor League field staff, from the Gulf Coast League all the way up. The organization hasn't pumped out a ton of "mega-prospects" -- although there have been some, most obviously Harper and Strasburg -- but Harris said the club has focused on making the most out of the skill sets it had to work with. Take Lombardozzi, the organization's 2011 Minor League Player of the Year, as an example.
Harris referred to the big league club's current success as "the fruits of your labor" from a player development standpoint. His staff maintains an active interest in the success of the organization's former prospects, as evidenced by the text messages and phone calls he gets from people within the organization. They called again this weekend, asking if he saw Brown's first Major League hit on Saturday, a solo home run.
"That's why our guys do this," Harris said. "But for the players, it's an opportunity. They're not afraid to give these guys chances. They go hand in hand, definitely."
That process has been more successful, Harris said, because the Nats have been adding and calling up players who mesh just as well in the clubhouse as they do on the field. Washington's scouts look for players who fit that makeup, but Harris said the club also enforces certain standards throughout the Minor Leagues. Many of the players currently in the Nationals' clubhouse spent time under those parameters, riding the buses together with Harrisburg and Syracuse.
The Nats, meanwhile, have ridden that camaraderie to first place, and they've ridden their depth to a Trade Deadline at which they may not need a big move to make a difference.
"That's the type of organization we are right now," Harris said. "We want quality people, along with quality players. That's a big part of it. To a man, they're all tremendous guys. That's what champions are. Championship-makeup type of guys."