INSIDE THE CHALK
Armed with multiple top prospects in the Nationals' farm system and 11 returning players from the 2016 squad, Potomac began the 2017 season well equipped to make a run into the playoffs. The Red, White, & Blue remained in playoff contention nearly all season long, but fell short of another postseason berth in the final week of the 2017 season. The P-Nats ended with an overall record of 63-77.
The Opening Day roster featured five of the top 30 prospects in Washington's system according to Baseball America. At the top of the list, OF Victor Robles entered as a consensus top prospect in the organization and a consensus top 20 prospect in all of Minor League Baseball. 3B Kelvin Gutierrez began the season with a return trip to the P-Nats as the 16th ranked prospect for the Nationals and rated as the best infield arm for Washington according to Baseball America. INF Edwin Lora (#23), OF Telmito Agustin (#28), and RHP Joan Baez (#29) rounded out the quintet of ranked prospects on the Opening Day roster.
The P-Nats got off to a hot start with a 4-2 record over the first two road series of the season, with series victories over the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City Royals) and Frederick Keys (Baltimore Orioles). The club spent eight days in first place of the Northern Division over the first two weeks of the season, but the club went 8-8 through the rest of April and wrapped up the month at 12-10.
Power propelled the P-Nats through the first month of the season. The team hit 22 home runs in April, which included three grand slams. On 4/26 vs. Frederick, the P-Nats connected with a season high four home runs in an 11-3 victory over the Keys.
C Taylor Gushue began his Nationals career with a home run in four of his first six games. Traded to the Nationals from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the off-season, Gushue had his best professional offensive season in 2017. Gushue's team-best 18 home runs tied him for second in the Carolina League, behind only Ademar Rifaela, the Carolina League MVP. Gushue drove in 67, second on the team and fourth in the league. He earned both Carolina League mid-season and postseason All-Star appearances and garnered his first opportunity at the Double-A level, where he played the final four games of the season for the Harrisburg Senators.
INF Austin Davidson also broke out of the gates quickly. Davidson recorded two five-RBI games within a span of one week. He set his career high with five RBIs on 4/20 against the Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland Indians), and matched that against the Keys on 4/26. Davidson finished the season second on the team in batting average (.272), walks (45), and third in OBP (.354).
April was the best offensive month of the season for Potomac. The Red, White, & Blue posted the club's highest home run total with 22 in 22 games. A .275 batting average was also the team's best monthly average.
As the calendar turned to May, the bats cooled off, but the pitching staff had its best month of the season. On the first day of May, RHP Jefry Rodriguez had the best start of the season for a Potomac pitcher. The right-handed starter took a no-hitter into the eighth inning on the road against the Down East Wood Ducks (Texas Rangers). The performance earned Rodriguez Carolina League Pitcher of the Week honors. Over the rest of the month, the pitching staff posted a 3.68 ERA with 233 strikeouts in 254.2 innings.
Potomac went just 12-18 in May despite the strong pitching performance as well as an outstanding effort from Robles. After an injury-riddled April, Robles adjusted to the Carolina League in May, his second go-around in the league. On 5/19, his 20th birthday, Robles had four hits and finished a double shy of the cycle. The young outfielder began a season-high 19-game on-base streak in the month and hit .294 with five home runs and 15 RBIs in 30 games in May.
After 41 games with the P-Nats in 2016, Robles played in 77 games for Potomac in 2017. Prior to a promotion to Double-A on 7/12, Robles hit .289 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs. The top prospect was as advertised defensively, with multiple home run robbing catches and sparkling plays all over the outfield. He continued his success with the Senators, where he hit .324 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 37 games. The 20-year-old made his Major League debut on 9/7 vs. the Philadelphia Phillies, and collected his first MLB hit and RBI three days later, also against Philadelphia.
The P-Nats entered June at 24-28 and picked up steam heading into the All-Star break with an offensive surge from 1B Ian Sagdal. The first baseman had his best offensive month of the season, as he hit .330 in 25 games in June. The native of Wenatchee, WA pushed his way into MLB Pipeline's top 30 Nationals prospects at the start of July.
Like Rodriguez in May, RHP Luis Reyes put together an outstanding June, which included a Carolina League Pitcher of the Week award for the first week of the month. On 6/8, Reyes tied his career high with 10 strikeouts, as he pitched eight-shutout frames against the Wood Ducks at Pfitzner Stadium. Over a four-start span, Reyes struck out 35 opponents in just 25 innings.
Potomac closed out the first half on a 7-4 run, but finished in third place in the Northern Division at 33-37. The Hillcats and Salem Red Sox (Boston Red Sox) finished in a tie at 40-29 atop the division. Lynchburg earned a playoff spot due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.
The P-Nats had four players selected to the Carolina League All-Star Game in 2017. C Taylor Gushue, CF Victor Robles, 3B Kelvin Gutierrez, and RHP Ronald Pena each earned recognition, with the first two appearing in the Northern Division vs. Southern Division battle. The Northern Division picked up the victory 2-0, while Gushue and Robles each went 0-2.
Out of the All-Star break, the P-Nats finished with nine games in June and wrapped up the month at 13-14, their second best record in a month during the 2017 season. As the schedule turned over to July, a slow start put the P-Nats into a hole in the standings, one that they were never able to dig out of. The P-Nats went just 11-16 in July, but did get their first walk-off home run of the season, as 3B Dan Gamache hit a one-out, two-run home run to cap off a rally on July 4th.
Potomac picked up some steam towards the end of July with some new blood. Over the back half of the month, C Jakson Reetz and CF Daniel Johnson joined the team and made an immediate impact. Reetz bolstered the catching depth and added another top 30 prospect to the team. The 21-year-old hit .236 in 26 games with Potomac, and threw out 38% of attempted base stealers.
The P-Nats didn't feel any impact as quick as that of Johnson. In replacement of Robles, Johnson hit a leadoff home run on the second Carolina League pitch that he saw against the Wood Ducks on 7/22. After just one home run in his first professional season (2016), the New Mexico State alum hit 17 home runs in his first 88 games of full season baseball. In 42 games with Potomac, Johnson hit .294 with five home runs and 20 RBIs. He hit two leadoff home runs, while two more came in the back half of the game to either tie or give Potomac the lead.
OF Jack Sundberg joined Johnson in offensive success in the outfield in the second half of July. After a .320 batting average in June, Sundberg followed up with a fantastic July, which included two walk-off hits against the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Chicago Cubs). His first Carolina League home run walked-off the Pelicans on 8/11. In his second professional season, Sundberg led the P-Nats in batting average (.277), walks (52), OBP (.361), and runs (56).
With six wins in the final eight games of July, the P-Nats found themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt entering the final full month of action. Potomac pulled as close as two games back of the final playoff spot, but a sweep at Salem on the second to last road trip of the season and a 1-9 record in the final 10 road games of the slate proved to be too much to overcome. Potomac finished 25-46 on the road overall and 38-31 at The Pfitz.
The P-Nats finished the second half of the season at just 30-40 and ended up seven games out of a playoff berth. For the second time in as many attempts, the Red Sox wilted down the stretch and lost out on a playoff berth, as the Keys gained five games on Salem over the final 10 days of the season and ended up four games ahead of the Red Sox. The first half champion Hillcats ended up as co-champions in the league along with the Wood Ducks, as hurricane Irma shortened the first round of both divisional matchups from five games to three games and forced a cancellation of the Mills Cup Championship Series.
Two Opening Day Potomac starters earned postseason recognition on the Carolina League All-Star Team. Gushue and Robles once again represented The Red, White, & Blue on a team led by six Hillcats players and coaches.
Throughout the 2017 campaign, the P-Nats welcomed four Washington Nationals to The Pfitz on rehab assignments. OF Michael A. Taylor spent just under a week with Potomac recovering from an oblique strain. The P-Nats hosted RHP Stephen Strasburg for one rehab start in August. The final home series of the weekend saw both SS Trea Turner and OF Jayson Werth appear at The Pfitz. Werth was with the team for his bobblehead night on 8/26.
Though the P-Nats missed out on the playoffs, several Potomac players had a stellar season and advanced through the Nationals' system. Robles went from The Pfitz to the Show in less than a span of two months. Both catchers, Gushue and C Jake Lowery, received promotions. On the mound, RHP Kyle Schepel, RHP Wirkin Estevez, RHP Dakota Bacus, LHP Matthew Crownover, and LHP R.C. Orlan all made appearances at the Double-A level.
(STILL) THE BEST PROMOS IN THE BIZ
The Potomac Nationals packed the promotional schedule in 2017 with premium giveaways, jersey auctions, seven bobbleheads/figurines, and 16 fireworks shows over the 70-game schedule. The promotional schedule and the play on the field drew over 230,000 people to Pfitzner Stadium. Several of Potomac's promotional giveaways and nights made national publications and even received airtime on ESPN. The campaign was one of the most successful in 40 years of baseball in Woodbridge.
In honor of the franchise's 40th season, the P-Nats put together a quartet of both throwback on-field jerseys as well as throwback replica giveaway jerseys. Each Friday night was a "Flashback Friday."
Potomac honored the 1982 Carolina League Champion Alexandria Dukes, the 1989 Carolina League Champion Prince William Cannons, the 1999-2004 Potomac Cannons, and inaugural 2005 Potomac Nationals. A silent auction accompanied each of the four throwback jerseys, while proceeds from the auctions went to different charities around Northern Virginia.
Giveaway replica jerseys, which mirrored those that were worn on the field, highlighted four different Sunday's during the season. The first 500 kids and 500 adults each took home a piece of Potomac baseball history.
The highlight of the promo schedule, as always, was the premium giveaway nights, the bobbleheads in particular. The P-Nats rolled out one of the best lineups in all of Minor League Baseball with a combination of seven bobbleheads and figurines. Be it the Bryce Harper Gobblehead as part of Pfitzgiving, the Pedro Severino bobblehead with removable catcher's mask, the Lester Averman Mighty Ducks Bobblehead, the Stephen Strasburg Flamethrower bobblehead, the look at Anthony Rendon with another in the line of "real hair" bobbleheads, the Fans' Choice Dan Kolko/Jayson Werth dual bobblehead, and the "Ode to Tommy John Surgery" statue, any or all are up there with any other bobblehead produced in the Minor Leagues in 2017.
Bryce Harper as a half man/half turkey garnered national attention from Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, and CBS Sports. The "Pfitzgiving" celebration at The Pfitz was not complete without taking home the Thanksgiving table centerpiece that is sure to be used for years to come.
In line with pushing the boundaries of what is possible, the Tommy John Surgery statue picked up the most steam in the media, from newspapers, to online websites, to social media, and even TV! With a removable UCL as part of the statue, the P-Nats honored the most infamous (famous?) surgery in baseball. ESPN's Kenny Mayne ran a segment about the statue as his "Star of the Night" on Sportscenter.
For the fourth straight year, the P-Nats put together a "real hair" bobblehead. The Red, White, & Blue highlighted the short term "electric" hairstyle of Anthony Rendon. The bobblehead made its way to many national media outlets and was featured on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball.
Once again, the P-Nats turned to the fans for the final bobblehead of the year. Through an off-season fan vote, the P-Nats faithful voted for a dual bobblehead of Jayson Werth and Dan Kolko, which replicated one of their incredible MASN-TV interviews.
On Thursday nights, the P-Nats kept things lively with events celebrating movies and music groups. The P-Nats toasted to Jimmy Buffett as well as The Doors. Pfitzner Stadium hosted Wayne's World Night and Back to the Future Night. The P-Nats hosted an "Almost Halfway to St. Patrick's Day" towards the end of the season. There was never a night devoid of entertainment for fans at Pfitzner Stadium, as the promo schedule was the best it has ever been.
Three celebrities graced the grounds of Pfitzner Stadium in 2017. Former Washington Redskins Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, The Mighty Ducks' Matt Doherty, and former Cy Young Winner Doc Gooden all met with fans and signed autographs for the Potomac faithful.
P-NATS IN THE COMMUNITY
The P-Nats once again began their community initiative in 2017 with the Hot Stove Banquet in February. Potomac partnered with SPARK (Supporting Partnerships and Resources for Kids) for a silent auction. The proceeds paid for all of the bus drivers that took Middle School students to Pfitzner Stadium on Middle School Day in May.
Potomac continued its community outreach with fundraisers and partnerships that raised more than $125,000. The organization also made donations of more than $25,000 to various charities and partners through eight different jersey auctions, all of which benefitted the Northern Virginia community. Some P-Nats gear even made it down to Cuba to help underprivileged youth.
Beneficiaries of fundraising included Gar-Field High School, Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, the National Kidney Foundation, Autism Speaks, the National MS Society, and many more.
The Red, White, & Blue continued a tradition that now dates back more than a decade with Uncle Slam's Reading Program, which kicked off in December of 2016. The reading program brought thousands of kids to The Pfitz through programs where the students had to read a certain amount of books following an assembly that featured Uncle Slam and members of the Potomac staff. Uncle Slam's Reading Program reached the largest amount of schools since its inception.
Once again, the P-Nats wore special military-themed jerseys on select Sundays at Pfitzner Stadium throughout the year. In association with Reality Realty, First Command Financial Services, Little Caesars, and Honor Brewing, the P-Nats hosted a sprawling Military Appreciation Day for local heroes who received free tickets to the event in June. The game saw nearly 9,000 fans at The Pfitz, who all helped pay tribute to local and regional military members and their families. The Military Appreciation jerseys were auctioned off on the final Sunday of the home schedule. The proceeds from the auction benefitted the Heroes Alliance Networkand The American Veterans Ball.
Throughout the summer, the P-Nats showed their appreciation to local teachers and professors with a free/discounted ticket program. Discounted tickets were available for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday home games, while all Prince William County Public School teachers received a complimentary family four pack of grandstand ticket vouchers for any 2017 P-Nats home game.
KO Distilling of Manassas, VA held a Community Night at Pfitzner Stadium this past season. The organization passed out special tickets to customers, fans, and other members of the community, and received special recognition at the ballpark.
On 6/22, the P-Nats hosted Jude Oz, who became known as Jayson Werth's biggest fan through a series of events at Nationals games. Jude raised money for St. Baldrick's foundation throughout the year, and even shaved off all of her hair to help raise money.
Over the entirety of the year, the P-Nats also partnered with the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, The American Cancer Society, and Prince William County Recycling to help spread awareness about several different causes.
Sentara took part in four different initiatives with the P-Nats at Pfitzner Stadium in 2017. Strike Out Stroke educated P-Nats fans about the warning signs of stroke. Get Back in the Game gave fans a look into the OrthoJoint center at Sentara Medical Center. Cancer Survivor night allowed all those who battled cancer to enter The Pfitz for Free. Kickoff to Septembeard wrapped up the season on the final homestand of 2017.
The P-Nats partnered with AuviQ to make Pfitzner Stadium peanut-free for one game in August. The P-Nats removed all peanut products from the stadium and through a deep clean, it became a safe environment for all fans who had peanut related allergies. AuviQ was on hand with EpiPens and information about peanut allergies.
On the final weekend of the home season, the P-Nats hosted Public Safety Weekend. Police, firefighters, and EMS workers each received a discounted $5 grandstand seat to the final three games at The Pfitz in 2017.
2017 FAST FACTS
- The P-Nats hosted 12 sellout crowds at Pfitzner Stadium during the 2017 season
- Six of the Washington Nationals' top 10 prospects according to Baseball America played for Potomac
- Victor Robles (#13) made it into Baseball America's mid-season Top 100 rankings
- The P-Nats raised more than $125,000 through the club's community service avenues
- The Washington Nationals sent four players to Potomac on rehabilitation in 2017. OF Michael Taylor, OF Jayson Werth, SS Trea Turner, and RHP Stephen Strasburg all played at The Pfitz.
- Six former P-Nats earned their first promotion to the Washington Nationals in 2017. C Raudy Read ('16), CF Victor Robles ('17), INF Adrian Sanchez ('12-'15), OF Rafael Bautista ('15), OF Andrew Stevenson ('16), and RHP Erick Fedde ('16) debuted with Washington
- Eight 2017 P-Nats earned a promotion in 2017, seven to Double-A Harrisburg, while Robles got promoted to Double-A and then made his Major League debut on 9/7
- Of the 40-man roster for the Nationals at the end of the regular season, 17 had previously played with the P-Nats either as a minor leaguer or on rehab assignment
- Two P-Nats captured a weekly award in 2017, as RHP Jefry Rodriguez and RHP Luis Reyes each took home a Carolina League Pitcher of the Week award
- Potomac had four Carolina League mid-season All-Stars in C Taylor Gushue, CF Victor Robles, 3B Kelvin Gutierrez, and RHP Ronald Pena
- The P-Nats' "Ode to Tommy John Surgery" statue made it to several national news outlets, was featured in Sports Illustrated magazine, and appeared on Kenny Mayne's ESPN Sportscenter
- Potomac's Anthony Rendon "Real Electric Hair" bobblehead was featured on an ESPN Sunday Night Baseball broadcast as well as in Baseball America
- The Fan's Choice bobblehead of Jayson Werth and Dan Kolko appeared in the Washington Post and on MASN-TV
- Celebrities to The Pfitz included Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams, The Mighty Ducks' Matt Doherty, and Cy Young Winner Doc Gooden
- The P-Nats were featured on several local and regional news outlets in 2017, which included ESPN 980, WTOP, and WJTLA Channel 9
The Potomac Nationals of the Carolina League play at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Virginia, and are the Carolina League affiliate of the Washington Nationals. The Potomac Nationals have claimed five Carolina League Championship titles (1982, 1989, 2008, 2010, and 2014) and nine CL Northern Division Championships. Sponsorship opportunities for the P-Nats' 2018 season and beyond are available, as well as all-inclusive corporate outings to watch the future stars of the Washington Nationals at The Pfitz. For more information on Potomac Nationals 2018 tickets, group outings, and picnic packages, visit the P-Nats online at www.potomacnationals.com or call the Potomac Nationals' Extreme Custom Collision Ticket Office at 703-590-2311.
-- Potomac Nationals --
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.