When Major League Baseball returned to the nation’s capital in 2005, in the form of the newly named Washington Nationals, it marked a return after 34 years, when the second coming of the Senators moved to Texas. MLB allowed the Montreal Expos to relocate to DC and sold the team to local ownership, who then had a tough task ahead rebuilding a franchise from top to bottom.
When the team moved to DC and the new owners took over, the new local fan base thought that it would mean lots of money spent on star free-agents to make the team instant contenders. The Lerner family had other ideas. They wanted to have long-term success for the franchise, and they believed that the best way to do that was to invest in the minor league system and player development.
One of the first things the franchise did was to jump at the chance to have one of their minor league affiliates close by, and just 20 miles away from homeplate at Nationals Park, they found that in Woodbridge, with the former Potomac Cannons, newly minted Potomac Nationals, and Potomac was all too happy to oblige. The Cannons franchise had 5 different parent clubs-Yankees, Pirates, White Sox, Cardinals, Reds-in 21 years in Woodbridge, so stability for the organization was truly welcomed.
The Washington Nationals have had some success in DC in recent years. After 81 wins in their inaugural season in the nation’s capital, the team fell on some hard times on the field, but stayed the course while focusing on player development. It has paid off, as the team has 2 NL East Division titles under its belt-one more than the total the franchise won in 36 seasons in Montreal. While both have resulted in 1st round playoff losses, the team has turned the corner and has a promising future ahead of it.
What can they attribute this to? For one thing, their relationship with their Single-A Carolina League affiliate out in the suburbs. Some former Potomac Nationals have made it to Washington. 2B Anthony Rendon (2012) is an everyday player and in 2014, his second full season in the majors, he won his first Silver Slugger award. SS Ian Desmond (2005-2007) has won 3 consecutive Silver Slugger Awards-something only accomplished by one other SS, Barry Larkin. On the mound, RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2008) has won 57 games, was a 2-time all-star, tied Adam Wainwright for the NL lead with 16 wins in 2013, and on September 28, 2014, the final day of the season, pitched the Nationals first no-hitter, an accomplishment all the more remarkable by the diving catch made by another Potomac alumni, OF Steven Souza (2012-2014), for the third out in the ninth inning to secure the feat. In the bullpen, RH Craig Stammen (2006-2008), RH Aaron Barrett (2012), and LH Ross Detwiler (2007-2008) have developed into solid contributors.
The Potomac franchise won Carolina League championships in 2008, 2010, and 2014. This bodes well for the future of the Potomac-to-Washington pipeline.