The 2013 Potomac Nationals had the best regular season in franchise history, winning both halves of their division. The PNats went to establish new single-season franchise records for both wins (84) and winning percentage (.604). In the playoffs, they lost in the championship series to the Salem Red Sox. The team outperformed their projected Pythagorean record by 6 wins.
Like most successful teams it all starts with the coaching staff. The manager for the 2013 PNats was former “Dirt Dog” and a member of the 2004 World Champion Boston Red Sox – Brian Daubach. Daubach was a 17th round draft pick before breaking into the majors with the Marlins in 1998. In 1999, he finished 4th in the American League Rookie of the Year Award race that year. In 2005 he met his debut with the New York Mets, 15 years after they drafted him. He stopped playing in 2006 when the St. Louis Cardinals released him. He finished with 93 home runs and a slash line of .259/.341/.476. After his playing career, Daubach spent time has a broadcaster and a manager in the CanAm League before joining the Washington Nationals staff. He managed the Hagerstown Suns in both 2011 and 2012. He lead the 2011 team to a 75-64 record and the 2012 team to a 82-58 record and an appearance in the South Atlantic League playoffs.
The pitching coach was Chris Michalak who spent two seasons with the Hagerstown Suns and the past year with the PNats. Michalak appeared in 578 professional games including 61 in the majors. He pitched for Arizona, Texas, Toronto, and Cincinnati in the majors. His best year was when he went 8-9 in 2001 for Toronto and Texas. An interesting fact is he was an extra in the classic sports movie “Rudy”.
Mark Harris also returned to the PNats as hitting coach in 2013. Harris played in the farm system for the Yankees after being selected in the first round of the 1978 draft. He spent 4 years coaching for the Royals in the minors include a stint as their Minor League Infield Coordinator before joining the Nationals organization. Harris last played professionally in 1980 for the Alexandria Dukes in 1980 and is the first franchise alumni to return to the team as a coach.
The Potomac Nationals started the season by going 12-13 for the month of April. They were led that month by their returning starting shortstop Jason Martinson. Martinson was rated one of the top prospects in the Nationals farm system before the season. He started the season off right by hitting a home run in his at bat of the year. He followed that by winning the Carolina League Offensive Player of the week for the first two weeks of the season. Martinson was promoted to Double AA Harrisonburg shortly after the all star break. He finished with 12 HRs 53 RBIs, 15SBs a slash line of .268/.374/.484 in only 73 games.
The leading pitcher for the month of April was Taylor Jordan who by June had worked his way up the ladder to the Washington Nationals. In just 6 games for the PNats including a eight inning shutout on May 2nd at the Pfitz he had a league leading E.R.A of 1.24. He went 2-1 over 36 innings with a WHIP of 1.01.
A personal highlight for me occurred during the first week of the season. At one of the home games against Salem, I threw out the first pitch. It was a great experience and I threw a strike down the middle to PNats reliever Matt Grace.
The Potomac Nationals got going in May with a record of 17-11. The team was lead this month by their starting pitchers. Taylor Hill lead the staff with a league leading ERA of 2.31 once Jordan was promoted. Hill also led the league in the lowest walks be nine innings ratio. He went on to finish the season for the PNats 6-2 with a 2.99 ERA and a WHIP of .99 in 15 games. Hill finished the season with the Triple AAA Syracuse Chiefs. He also won a minor league Rawlings Gold Glove award.
Robbie Ray was another stalwart for the PNats. Ray had a 7 inning no hitter in May against the Winton Salem Dash. He finished the season 6-3 in 15 games, was second on the team in strikeouts with 100 in only 84 innings and averaged an impressive 10.7 strikeouts per 9 innings. Ray was named to the Carolina League All Star team and was promoted to Harrisonburg shortly after the all star break. He was the cornerstone of the Doug Fister trade and is now one of the top ten prospects in Detroit’s system. He could be in Detroit’s rotation by the end of 2014.
In June the PNats went 20-5 with 1 tie. The team sent 4 All Stars – OF Billy Burns, P Blake Schwartz, P Robbie Ray and C Adrian Nieto. In the All Star game the Carolina League beat the California League 12-4. Billy Burns led off for the Carolina League and went 1-3 with 2 runs scored and 2 stolen bases. Nieto went 0 for 1 in his one at bat and Blake Schwartz pitched 1 scoreless innings with a strikeout.
Billy Burns was drafted in the 32nd round in 2011 and he is a testament to the Washington Nationals scouting department. Burns led the Carolina league with 54 stolen bases (had a success percentage of 92%), 9 triples and a .422 on base percentage. He finished second in the league in batting average with a .312 clip all in only 92 games. He was prompted to Double AA in August and continued his hot hitting. Burns was named the 2013 Washington Nationals Minor League Offensive Player of the Year. His stock soared throughout the year and was traded in the offseason to the Nationals favorite trading partner- the Oakland A’s for Left Handed Reliever Jerry Blevins.
Blake Schwartz was a 17th round draft pick in 2012. Schwartz started the season in Hagerstown and went 2-0 in 4 appearances there with a 1.26 ERA. He was then prompted to Potomac to take Taylor Jordan’s spot when Jordan was promoted. Schwartz responded with an 11-4 record in 23 games to go with a 2.65 ERA (second in the league) and a league leading WHIP of 1.078.
Adrian Nieto was the fourth of the midseason all stars for the PNats He was a fifth round draft choice in 2008. Adrian was one of two PNats who played in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. He played for Spain and went 5 for 21 with 2 doubles in the qualifier and first round of the tournament before they were eliminated. Nieto played in 110 games for the PNats and finished in the top 20 in the league in Batting Average (.285), Doubles (29), Home Runs (11), Walks (53), fifth in on base percentage (.373) and 6th in slugging percentage (.449) He provided a steady presence behind the plate for entire year for the PNats pitching staff and was one of the most unsung members of the team. He was drafted in the Rule 5 Draft by the Chicago White Sox and is expect to compete for their backup catcher spot for 2014.
The first half was an overwhelming success for the PNats!