Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to go through and preview the 12 Eastern League teams in reverse order of last season’s record. Rosters won’t be finalized until the week before Opening Day, so my Players to Watch is pure speculation at this point.
Up next, we have our hometown Harrisburg Senators…
2015 record: 67-75
Affiliation: Washington Nationals
Manager: Matt LeCroy
Hitting coach: Brian Rupp
Pitching coach: Chris Michalak
Five Players to Watch
RHP Lucas Giolito – Expect the consensus top pitching prospect in all of baseball to return to Harrisburg to begin the 2016 season. But don’t count on him to be there for too long. It’s only a matter of time until his devastating fastball and hammer curve gets him promoted to Triple-A Syracuse and eventually Washington, DC.
2B Chris Bostick – Last season, the Rochester, NY native was the only Nationals’ minor leaguer who finished in the top five organizationally for home runs, runs batted in, and stolen bases. Bostick adapted an aggressive approach at the plate during his stint in last year’s Arizona Fall League that he hopes to carry over to 2016 and beyond.
RHP Reynaldo Lopez – The 22-year old flamethrower is still working to harness the power and command in his right arm. Pitching from behind (and thus predictably), batters overall hit .252 off Lopez and slashed .300/.335/.407 with runners on base. The native Dominican needs to repeat a consistent delivery as he cultivates a developing change-up that could be the difference between his future as a starter or as a reliever.
C Spencer Kieboom – After a spectacular season in 2014, the Clemson product saw his offensive numbers drop off with the P-Nats last year. Kieboom took a step backwards with his power numbers as well as the backstop managed to hit only two home runs and 16 doubles. But even in a down year with the bat, Kieboom’s plate discipline and batting eye improved greatly as he cut down considerably on strikeouts and increased his walks.
RHP Phillips Valdez – Both the Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays didn’t see a future with Valdez, but the Nationals did and it’s been paying off in spades so far. The lithe right-hander has a high upside with a mid-90s fastball and a slider that he delivers from a low three-quarters arm slot.
The Senators will have a young, but veteran, team taking the field as I expect 3/4 of the infield, 2/3 of the outfield, and a couple of bench guys back from the 2015 squad. Although the signings of minor league free agents Stephen Shackelford and Jon Velasquez remedy last season’s biggest problem at the back-end of the bullpen, getting to them might be 2016’s toughest task. The rotation’s fortunes won’t fall to Giolito who probably won’t be in Harrisburg through June, but instead to starters like John Simms and Michael Brady. If the pieces fall into place expect the Senators to be a tick above .500 ball and in the middle of a crowded Western Division playoff race.