INSIDE THE LINES
With 19 former P-Nats players in tow to begin the regular season, the 2018 Potomac Nationals had one of the top teams in Minor League Baseball in the first half of the 2018 Carolina League season. Led by fifth year manager Tripp Keister, Potomac won the first half Northern Division Championship with a 37-30 record, and finished second in the division in the second half at 37-32. Potomac finished with the top overall record in the Northern Division at 74-62, 13.0 games better than the organization's final record of the 2017 season. The season saw a 3B Ian Sagdal win the Carolina League batting championship, and RHP Wil Crowe earn Carolina League Pitcher of the Year.
The P-Nats started 2018 with two top 10 prospects in the Washington Nationals' system, and six top 30 prospects in the organization according to Baseball America. SS Carter Kieboom (#4) and RHP Wil Crowe (#7) each spent at least half the season with The Red, White, & Blue. CF Blake Perkins, ranked #11 in the system prior to the season, spent the first half of the campaign with Potomac, but was traded to the Kansas City Royals as part of the Kelvin Herrera deal over the Carolina League All-Star Break. OF Telmito Agustin (#25), RHP Joan Baez (#27), and C Jakson Reetz (#29) rounded out the top 30 ranked prospects on Potomac's Opening Day roster.
Opening the season at home for the first time in three years, Potomac dropped two of the first three regular season games to the Wilmington Blue Rocks (Kansas City), which put the club in last place in the Northern Division. That was the final time Potomac was outside of the top three in the division standings in route to a first half championship. The P-Nats spent most of April in second or third place in the division, but wrapped up the month with three consecutive wins and a victory in five of the final six games. At 14-10, Potomac ended April tied for the top spot in the Northern Division. A .269 team batting average in April was second among the 10-team league. Agustin hit a league-best .368 in April, while Kieboom hit four home runs, including the first Carolina League grand slam of 2018. RHP James Bourque and LHP Jordan Mills shined out of the Potomac bullpen, as the duo made 15 combined appearances and posted just a 0.75 ERA over 24.0 innings.
Potomac spent all but one day in May either alone in first place in the standings or tied for first place, this despite a loss in four of the first seven games of the month. After a bitterly cold April, but no weather induced postponements, mother nature finally caught up to Potomac, as four straight games were called due to rain from 5/15-5/18. Potomac lost three more games later in the month to rain as well. At just 12-13, May was the lone month during the season that Potomac finished under .500, yet the P-Nats led the league in batting average (.294) in the month and tallied the third most home runs (27). Crowe dominated Caroline League competition in May. In five appearances, four starts, he went 3-0 with a 1.95 ERA. Kieboom hit his second and third grand slams of the season vs. the Salem Red Sox (Boston) in the month. Kieboom won the Carolina League Player of the Week Award on 5/14.
May also saw the emergence of 19-year-old phenom Juan Soto, who tore up the Carolina League after he started the season with the Low-A Hagerstown Suns. Soto earned a late-April promotion to Potomac. After he missed most of 2017 due to injury, no one knew what Soto had in store for 2018, and very few people could have foreseen his emergence not only through the Minor League system, but make an appearance with Washington, stick through the remainder of the season, and finish with one of the top seasons in MLB history for a teenager. Soto played in 15 games for Potomac, 12 in May, and hit seven home runs. He tallied a home run in his second game at the Carolina League level, April 25th in Wilmington, DE, and hit six home runs in 12 games in May, before he got called up to Double-A Harrisburg on May 10th. The 19-year-old took home the Carolina League Player of the Week Award on May 7th. Soto has already tallied 20 home runs in his first 105 games for Washington at the MLB level.
Sans Soto, the first half of June led to a postseason berth for Potomac. With a 7-3 record in the final 10 games of the second half, Potomac secured a spot in the Carolina League Playoffs with a three-game cushion over the Frederick Keys (Baltimore). In Potomac's playoff-clinching victory over the Astros on June 14th, Potomac manager Tripp Keister set the franchise's all-time wins record with his 314th win for The Red, White, & Blue. With a 3.10 team ERA in the month, Potomac finished second in the league in June behind only Buies Creek. RHP Tyler Mapes, RHP Sterling Sharp, RHP Wil Crowe, LHP Jordan Mills, RHP Ronald Pena, C Tres Barrera, Kieboom and 3B Jake Noll each were named to the Carolina League All-Star team. Barrera and Kieboom each hit a home run in a 7-6 loss to the Southern Division All-Star Team.
Potomac went 3-6 to end the month and thus start the second half, as they entered July in fourth place in the Northern Division. June saw the addition of many players to Potomac, as the team built its roster for what turned into a lengthy playoff run. In June, Potomac lost Kieboom, Noll, OF Alec Keller, Mapes, and Crowe. OF Nick Banks, 1B Aldrem Corredor, LHP Nick Raquet, and RHP Steven Fuentes each joined the club on the same day that Potomac lost a plethora of All-Stars, June 21st. Pena and Sharp each earned a similar promotion to Double-A Harrisburg before June came to the end. The P-Nats went just 14-13 in June despite a combined 6-0 record for Crowe and Mapes in six starts. Mapes allowed just one run in 23.0 innings in his three June starts.
The late June struggles for the P-Nats continued through the first week and a half in July, as Potomac dropped eight of their first nine games in July, the toughest stretch in the season. The team responded with a win in 14 of the next 18, as Sagdal began his quest for the batting crown with a .346 batting average in the month. RHP A.J. Bogucki, Bourque, Fuentes, LHP Hayden Howard, RHP Jeremy McKinney, & Mills allowed a total of just five earned runs over 65.0 innings (0.62 ERA) out of the Potomac bullpen in the month. The P-Nats finished with the best batting average (.281) in the Carolina League in July, and fourth in team ERA (3.56).
Wrapping up July with five straight wins set Potomac up for the stretch run and playoff push, as the team began to round into form before the postseason. Six of the first seven August games were wins for The Red, White, & Blue, which pulled the club within 2.5 games of the Northern Division lead. Wilmington led the second half standings for nearly all of the second half, but with a 10-game losing streak, the Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland) vaulted to the top of the division in route to a division title. The P-Nats led the Carolina League in team ERA (2.24) in August, and finished second in the division with 16 wins in the month. As the Hillcats picked up the second half Northern Division Championship, the P-Nats alternated wins and losses in their five regular season home games in September. On August 25th, LHP Matthew Crownover tossed nine no-hit innings against the Hillcats, as he tallied the first no-hitter in Potomac Nationals history.
As the first half champions, Potomac had home field advantage over Lynchburg in the Northern Division Championship Series. With games one and two set for City Stadium in Lynchburg, VA, Potomac was set to host game three, and then games four and five if necessary.
In game one, Baez got the start for Potomac. Entering the postseason, Baez was 3-1 with a 1.52 ERA and a .170 opponents batting average over his final six starts. That all went away quickly, as the Hillcats put five runs across the board against Baez in the second inning of a 5-2 victory. Crownover took the ball in game two, just over a week after he had no-hit the Hillcats. The left-handed starter allowed just one run over five innings for Potomac, as a three-run fourth inning highlighted a 4-1 Potomac victory. Banks, who finished the postseason with a league-high eight RBIs, picked up a home run in the third inning of Potomac's victory, which evened the series.
The series then transitioned to Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, where mother nature decided to inject some more craziness into the 2018 season. Game three of the NDCS got into the top of the 6th inning before the rain caused what appeared to be the end of the game. Like what happened between the two teams in a similar spot in 2016, Potomac led after what would normally be considered an official game. But a new rule, changed after 2016, made it so that teams had to play the full nine innings, which led to a suspension of game three. The game resumed the next day with Potomac ahead 4-0 in the sixth inning, as LHP Taylor Guilbeau replaced Potomac starter RHP Kyle Johnston. As the game went into the 7th inning, with Potomac ahead 4-0, the Hillcats rallied and put five runs on the board. A three-run home run from Dillon Persinger gave the Hillcats the lead, and the eventual 6-4 victory, which put them within a win of the Mills Cup Championship Series.
Potomac turned to Raquet in a must-win game, and the right-handed starter came through, as he allowed just two earned runs on two hits over 6.1 innings. The P-Nats, like in game three, took a big lead into the seventh inning, but for the second straight game, saw that lead fall apart. Down 3-0 after six frames, the Hillcats loaded the bases with only one out against Raquet in the top of the seventh inning, which led to a pitching change. Howard entered to face Austen Wade, who turned a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 lead with a grand slam over the right field wall. Potomac quickly answered however, as Sagdal tied the game with a two-out RBI single in the home half of the seventh inning, C Jakson Reetz got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, which put Potomac ahead, and SS Luis Garcia gave the P-Nats a 7-4 lead with a two-out, two-run single.
With the NDCS tied at two games apiece, it looked like rain would cause the decisive game five to be pushed back a day. Originally slated for a 1:05pm start, the game was in a delay until 6:30pm, when the teams finally began action. RHP Jackson Tetreault and Eli Morgan dueled for Potomac and Lynchburg respectively, as both allowed just one earned run over at least five innings. With Potomac ahead 2-1 after 7.5 innings, the home team loaded the bases with one out against Lynchburg All-Star reliever Dalbert Siri. An intentional walk to Barrera loaded the bases for Corredor, who hit a grand slam, which effectively put an end to the NDCS and got Potomac the victory. Despite a late rally in the ninth by the Hillcats, Potomac picked up the 6-2 win and claimed the organizations 10th Division Championship.
While the P-Nats and Hillcats did battle for the Northern Division Championship, the Astros and Winston-Salem Dash matched up in the Southern Division Championship Series. In a battle between the league's top offense (Winston-Salem) and top pitching staff (Buies Creek), the Astros picked up three straight victories by just four total runs. The sweep got the Astros a few extra off days as they awaited the winner of Potomac vs. Lynchburg for the Mills Cup Championship Series.
Potomac traveled down to Buies Creek, NC with the expectation of playing a best-of-five series, as hurricane Florence began to show a path through the heart of North Carolina. Shortly before game one at Jim Perry Stadium, the home of the Astros, the Carolina League announced that the Championship Series had been cancelled, and that the two teams would play a one-game, winner-take-all matchup on the Astros' turf for the league championship. This was somewhat similar to 2017, where hurricane Irma caused the total cancellation of the Mills Cup Championship Series, as the Down East Wood Ducks and Hillcats were deemed co-champions.
Baez got the nod in the championship game, and he pitched far better than his prior postseason outing. The right-handed starter didn't allow a run over 4.2 innings for Potomac, and his team gave him a 1-0 lead. An RBI double by Banks in the fifth inning off of Jose Hernandez gave the P-Nats the lead, one held until the bottom of the eighth inning. The Astros threatened against Baez in the fifth inning, but Fuentes entered from the Potomac bullpen and got out of the jam. McKinney got himself out of a bases loaded jam in the seventh inning, and then got the first two outs of the home half of the eighth frame.
Four outs away from a Carolina League Championship, the right-handed reliever gave up a towering solo home run to Jake Adams. The home run, which cleared the top of the left field foul pole, tied the game, and eventually sent it to extra innings. Potomac loaded the bases in a scoreless ninth inning and put the go-ahead run at second base with no outs in the 11th frame, but came up empty both times. As the sixth Potomac pitcher of the night, RHP Carlos Acevedo entered for the bottom of the 11th inning, but couldn't send the game to the 12th frame. Chuckie Robinson led off the inning with a single, while Adams came through once more with a base hit. A successful sacrifice bunt from Cody Bohanek put men at second and third base with only one out, while Jonathan Arauz gave the Astros the championship with a sacrifice fly to centerfield. Potomac fell 2-1 in 11 innings and came up shy of the sixth championship in franchise history.
Despite a loss in the Championship matchup, it was a successful season for the P-Nats as a team, as well as many individuals who wore The Red, White, & Blue in 2019. Two players made it from Potomac to the Major League club, as Juan Soto went all the way from Low-A to D.C. and made his Major League debut on May 20th, while RHP Kyle McGowin appeared in two games for Potomac in 2018 and made his first career big league appearance on September 5th.
RHP Wil Crowe, 3B Ian Sagdal, and OF Rhett Wiseman were each named a Carolina League Post-Season All-Star, while Crowe won the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year. Crowe went 11-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 16 games, 15 starts, for Potomac. The P-Nats went 14-2 in games that Crowe pitched in over the course of the 2018 season. Sagdal, who started the season at first base for Potomac, spent much of the second half as well as the playoffs at third base for the P-Nats. He led the league in batting (.318), and finished in the top five in the league in OBP and SLG. Wiseman finished third in the 10-team circuit in home runs (21), second in extra-base hits (48), and led Potomac in RBIs (63).
Throughout the 2018 season, Potomac welcomed 10 Washington Nationals on rehab assignments. On the offensive side, OF Adam Eaton, 3B Anthony Rendon, C Matt Wieters, and 1B Ryan Zimmerman each appeared in at least one game for Potomac. On the mound, RHP Koda Glover, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Shawn Kelley, RHP Brandon Kintzler, RHP Joe Ross, and RHP Stephen Strasburg each toed the rubber at least once for The Red, White, & Blue.
BEST PROMOTIONS IN THE BUSINESS
The Potomac Nationals created a jam packed promotional schedule for the 2018 campaign, with premium giveaways, jersey auctions, eight bobbleheads/statues, and 16 fireworks shows over the 70-game home schedule. The promotional schedule and the team on the field drew more than 235,000 fans to Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium during the regular season. Several Potomac promotional giveaways and theme nights drew national media attention on various sports websites, blogs, and radio shows.
A newer addition to Potomac Nationals' promotional slate was an emphasis on celebrity appearances, which totaled eight celebrities spread over seven appearance dates. Celebrities who visited Woodbridge included Jose Canseco, Bull Durham's Robert Wuhl, Washington basketball greats Phil Chenier and Harvey Grant, Grease's Didi Conn, The Sandlot's Chauncey Leopardi, Potomac Baseball HOF member Coco Crisp, and WWE Hall of Fame member Charles "The Godfather" Wright. Many of these celebrities were part of the 2018 "Famous Friday" promotion, which saw Potomac highlight various famous movies, sports teams, and people for all 11 Friday home games during the season. The P-Nats celebrated movies like Bull Durham, The Sandlot, and Grease, and inducted former Potomac Cannons outfielder Coco Crisp into the team's Hall of Fame.
As has become tradition with the P-Nats, the bobblehead lineup was the crux of the promotional schedule, and one of the best lineups in Minor League Baseball. With eight different stadium giveaway bobbleheads/statues, there was something for everyone. Whether it was Stephen Strasburg riding a horse for the celebration of the Kentucky Derby, Trea Turner as half-man, half-roadrunner, top Nationals prospect Victor Robles robbing a home run from over the wall, allowing kids to paint their own Uncle Slam mascot, celebrating Michael A. Taylor's home run heroics with a potato-shaped "Tater" statue, highlighting Washington's very own Bryce Harper with real-slicked back hair in a throwback to Grease, Chauncey Leopardi as part of The Sandlot night, or the Fans' Choice Bobblehead of Tanner Roark with an American Eagle on his shoulder, there was a bobblehead/statue for fans of all ages.
With the P-Nats at home for the Kentucky Derby, Saturday, May 5th, the question wasn't if the club would commemorate it, but how. By mounting former #1 pick Stephen Strasburg on the back of a horse, there was no better representation of the Run for the Roses.
In what has become a Potomac tradition, the half-man, half-animal bobblehead returned in the form of Trea Turner as a roadrunner. In a throwback to when Turner wore roadrunner inspired cleats for the Nationals, it was an opportunity that the P-Nats couldn't pass up.
Nationals #1 ranked prospect Victor Robles, who played for Potomac in 2016 and 2017, had to be recognized in bobblehead form for 2018. Known for his elite level defense and robbing of home runs, he went up over a wall to bring one back in his first P-Nats bobblehead.
Having earned the nickname Michael A. Tater, Taylor had to know that the P-Nats would take that and run with it, as Potomac created a Taylor "Tater" statue, with removable parts.
For the fifth year in a row, Potomac went with a "real hair" bobblehead, as Bryce Harper was turned into a lookalike from the movie "Grease," as Potomac celebrated the movie's 40th anniversary. With real-slicked back hair and a leather jacket, Harper fit right in, as the P-Nats welcomed Grease star Didi Conn to the ballpark.
Continuing with a bobblehead of a celebrity in attendance at the ballpark, the P-Nats followed up last year's Lester Averman Mighty Ducks bobblehead and celebrity appearance with one of Chauncey Leopardi from The Sandlot in celebration of the film's 25th anniversary. With Leopardi on hand to sign autographs, fans took home a lookalike in bobblehead form.
To close out the bobblehead slate, Potomac turned to the fans for the final bobblehead of the year. In a tight vote throughout the off-season, the P-Nats faithful decided that a celebration of Tanner Roark and Team USA's Championship in the World Baseball Classic fit the bill. With an eagle on his shoulder, Roark's feats in the WBC were immortalized as a bobblehead.
Other premium giveaways throughout the season included a Carolina League Legends Card Set, a Victor Robles "Little League" T-Shirt, a Military Appreciation Night Camo Koozie, a Trea Turner "Signature" Grill Mitt, a P-Nats Toothbrush Holder, P-Nats Kids Batting Gloves, Anthony Rendon Hat Hair, and a Coco Crisp Potomac Hall of Fame Cereal Bowl.
P-NATS IN THE COMMUNITY
The 2018 Potomac Nationals community initiative got underway in February with the team's annual Hot Stove Banquet. The P-Nats partnered with SPARK (Supporting Partnerships and Resources for Kids) for a silent auction. The proceeds from the auction paid for the transportation for local kids as part of Middle School Day at Northwest Federal Field.
The P-Nats continued the community outreach with fundraisers and partnerships that raised more than $135,000. The club also made donations of more than $25,000 to various charities through seven different theme jersey auctions, all of which benefitted the local community.
Beneficiaries of fundraising included Special Olympics Virginia, Autism Speaks, Play4TheCure, Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, the National Kidney Foundation, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, local military based organizations, as well as many more.
As part of the partnership with Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic and Star Wars Day on June 23rd, the P-Nats and Wilmington Blue Rocks lined the field in between innings, as two young kids participated in a "Home Run for Life." The two youngsters, who were both going through a battle with cancer, were able to take a swing at home plate and run the bases like they had hit a home run. Both kids got to give high-fives to players from both teams, as the P-Nats and Blue Rocks paused mid-game to honor the two of them.
Potomac continued a tradition that now approaches 15 years with Uncle Slam's Reading Program, which kicked off just prior to the beginning of 2018. The reading program brought thousands of students from around the area to Northwest Federal Field. Through assemblies at local schools with Uncle Slam and P-Nats representatives, kids could read four books, and then come out to a game for free. For the second straight year, Uncle Slam's Reading program set a new high mark for the number of schools reached as well as the number of participants.
As has become a tradition with the P-Nats, Northwest Federal Field hosted an extensive Military Appreciation Day in June. In conjunction with various partners like Reality Realty, Honor Brewing, VDSS, and others, local heroes received free tickets to the game. That night's matchup saw more than 6,000 fans at the ballpark, who all helped pay tribute to local and regional military members and their families. Custom Military Appreciation jerseys, worn on select Sundays throughout the season, were auctioned off on the final Sunday of the season, and benefitted various local military organizations.
Throughout the 2018 season, the P-Nats showed their appreciation to local teachers and professors with a free ticket program. The club gave out more than 4,000 tickets to new teachers and professors in Prince William County, good for any 2018 P-Nats home game.
On the health awareness front, Potomac partnered with Sentara for Strikeout Stroke Night, Orthopedic Night, and Cancer Survivor Night. The P-Nats partnered with Mary Washington Healthcare for Health and Wellness Night. Potomac also partnered with the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, and raised awareness for sun safety in association with the American Cancer Society.
The P-Nats partnered with AuviQ on three different occasions throughout the season for peanut-free games. The P-Nats removed all peanut products throughout the stadium, and with a deep clean, created a safe environment at Northwest Federal Field for all fans with peanut related allergies. AuviQ was on hand to provide instruction and instruments to help fans with peanut-related allergies.
In April, Potomac hosted Public Safety Appreciation Weekend at the ballpark. Discounted tickets were available for all EMS, Police Department members, Fire & Rescue Department members, nurses, doctors, & surgeons.
2018 FAST FACTS
- The P-Nats hosted six sellout crowds at Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium during the 2018 season
- Four of the top seven, and 11 of the top 30 prospects in the Washington Nationals' organization according to Baseball America appeared in a game for Potomac during the 2018 campaign
- LHP Matthew Crownover threw the first no-hitter in Potomac Nationals history on 8/25/18
- Carter Kieboom (#34) & Luis Garcia (#90) each made it into MLB.com's final 2018 top 100 prospect list
- The P-Nats raised more than $135,000 through the club's community service avenues
- Potomac inducted former outfielder Coco Crisp into the franchise's Hall of Fame
- The Washington Nationals sent 10 players to the P-Nats on rehabilitation assignment in 2018
- OF Adam Eaton, 3B Anthony Rendon, C Matt Wieters, and 1B Ryan Zimmerman
- RHP Koda Glover, RHP Jeremy Hellickson, RHP Shawn Kelley, RHP Brandon Kintzler, RHP Joe Ross, and RHP Stephen Strasburg
- Seven former P-Nats made their first appearance at the Major League level in 2018
- For Washington, RHP Jefry Rodriguez ('17), RHP Wander Suero ('14/'15), RHP Austin Voth ('14), RHP Austen Williams ('15-'17), RHP Kyle McGowin ('17/'18), and OF Juan Soto ('18)
- For the Chicago White Sox, IF Matt Skole ('12).
- Two 2018 P-Nats, RHP Kyle McGowin and OF Juan Soto, made it from Woodbridge, VA to Washington, D.C. before the MLB season ended. Soto debuted on May 20th, while McGowin debuted on September 5th
- Of the current Washington Nationals 40-man roster, 29 have previously played with the P-Nats as either a minor leaguer or on rehab assignment
- Five P-Nats captured a Carolina League weekly award in 2018
- Juan Soto-5/7
- Carter Kieboom-5/14
- Alec Keller-6/12
- Rhett Wiseman-8/27
- Matthew Crownover-8/27
- Potomac had eight Carolina League mid-season All-Stars in RHP Tyler Mapes, RHP Sterling Sharp, RHP Wil Crowe, LHP Jordan Mills, RHP Ronald Pena, C Tres Barrera, SS Carter Kieboom and 3B Jake Noll
- Celebrities to Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium included Jose Canseco, Bull Durham's Robert Wuhl, Washington basketball greats Phil Chenier and Harvey Grant, Grease's Didi Conn, The Sandlot's Chauncey Leopardi, Potomac Baseball HOF member Coco Crisp, and WWE Hall of Fame member Charles "The Godfather" Wright
- Various promotions and theme nights received national media attention, as bobbleheads, videos, and more, appeared on ESPN's Intentional Talk, Yahoo Sports, Ballpark Digest, MLB Cut4, BarDown, The Washington Post, Baseball America, USA Today, & Sports Illustrated
The Potomac Nationals of the Carolina League play at Northwest Federal Field 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 10 CL Northern Division Championships. Sponsorship opportunities for the P-Nats' 2019 season and beyond are available, as well as all-inclusive corporate picnic outings to watch the future stars of the Washington Nationals at The Pfitz. 2019 Potomac Nationals season tickets and mini plans will be available soon. For more information on Potomac Nationals 2019 season tickets, mini plans, group outings, picnic packages, fundraisers, and all things Red, White, and Blue, visit the P-Nats online at www.potomacnationals.com, follow the P-Nats on Facebook (@PotomacNationals), Twitter (@PNats42), and Instagram (@pnats42), or call the Potomac Nationals' Extreme Custom Collision Ticket Office at 703-590-2311.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.