Since 2009, Nationals assistant general manager Doug Harris has overseen the development of the farm system. Under his watch, the Nats have seen players like Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Joe Ross and Tanner Roark work their way to the Major Leagues. MLB.com caught up with Harris recently to talk about the current state of the Minor League system.
MLB.com: Let's talk about Lucas Giolito, the team's No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com. What has impressed you the most about him?
Harris: We got him into Double-A last year. He was able to see more mature hitters. He has a better understanding of what he needs to do to pitch successfully on a higher level. I think it was a real good experience for him. We took him to the instructional league last year. When he arrived, [pitching coach] Paul Menhart, Lucas and I sat down and talked. He broke himself down to a tee. He understood what his strengths are. He understood what his weaknesses are. He knew what he needed to do to get better. It made it a whole lot easier on us and he went out and did it in the instructional league. He always had dominant stuff, but he repeated his delivery, got better at holding runners. He did a good job at fielding his position, all the little things you have to do to move up in the systems.
MLB.com: Giolito talked about how he is not allowing the little things to bother him.
Harris: Yes. He knows that he can't let those little things affect him -- pitch to pitch. His emotional control was much improved.
MLB.com: Giolito will be with the Nationals during Spring Training. Do you think he will start the season in the rotation?
Harris: I think Lucas still has some things in front of him that he needs to finish off before he is put in that situation. He has the stuff that makes it intriguing to discuss that situation. But he also has some other things that he needs to accomplish in order to be successful.
MLB.com: What do you want to see?
Harris: Repeating his delivery, commanding the strike zone, throwing his secondary stuff for strikes, holding runners and fielding his position. All the little things that show up and get magnified as you get through the higher level of baseball.
MLB.com: Outfielder Victor Robles is considered a five-tool player. What's impressive about him?
Harris: He is a gifted athlete. He is a very instinctive young man. He has good aptitude. He is a high contact guy while being aggressive. He has hand quickness, he has strength, he has the natural gifts that will give you a chance to be successful in a lot of different phases. With health and continued development, hopefully, he can retain that ceiling.
MLB.com: What did you think of Trea Turner once he joined the Nationals?
Harris: I thought Trea handled the year with a lot of maturity and grace. He played for five different teams in his first full season in pro baseball. A player's first full season in baseball tends to be very challenging as they learn the everydayness of the game. Trea handled it with a tremendous amount of maturity as he went from team to team. For him, it's just continuing to evolve physically as he gets stronger. Also, he needs to learn some of the finer points of playing shortstop and continue to evolve offensively. He had a terrific year. We were really pleased with what we have seen.
MLB.com: Could you name some players that fell under the radar but could make a name for themselves?
Harris: Koda Glover really dominated in two levels as a bullpen guy. He has a mid- to upper-90s fastball guy with a good slider. He's big, he's physical, he's a tough kid and he's aggressive. We could have challenged him at a higher level. But he didn't pitch in the summer throughout his college career. We had to be mindful of the intensity and the volume. He is a guy that is prepared for the next challenge.
Taylor Hearn is a big left-hander. He was up to 99 [mph] in the instructional league. He is a little more raw. There is going to be some ups and downs with him. He's 6-5, has a size 17 shoe.
Andrew Lee was a first baseman/reliever at Tennessee. Andrew has a really good fastball, a lot of perception. He has a good curveball. He hasn't pitched a whole lot, but he advanced to Hagerstown last year. We look for him to get better.
MLB.com: The Nationals didn't have a Minor League team make the postseason last year. Should there be a concern about that?
Harris: We do care about it. Last year was a challenging year for us in a lot of different ways. We had health issues in the Major Leagues. We had to push some guys a little bit faster than we would have liked. That plays a big role in it. We had a lot of .500-ish, a tick below clubs. It was a year we need to improve on. We had a lot of success in the Minor Leagues in the last several years. It's something that is important to us. We are never going to sacrifice the development of a player to win a ballgame, but we want to have the mindset that we are going to go out and win every ballgame every night.
MLB.com: Spring Training is around the corner. How will it be different for the Minor Leaguers this year?
Harris: I don't think it's going to be a big difference in the day-to-day schedule. But we need to do a better job with some of the things that we do fundamentally. We need to do a better job with certain mindsets. It's something we addressed in the instructional league. We got back to some basics on some things. How we want to go about our business. What's important is to us are, pitchers, baserunners, defenders and our guys. It was the best instructional league I've ever been around. We challenged these young men. We were creative. We made it fun. It was high energy. We expect more of the same in Spring Training.