Daniel quietly making name for himself
Nationals outfield prospect seen as organization's top hitter
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Mike Daniel doesn't get the publicity that Chris Marrero, Justin Maxwell and Esmailyn Gonzalez receive, but talk to Bob Boone, the team's vice president of player development, and he will tell you that the left-handed-hitting Daniel is the organization's best hitter.
Boone loves the mechanics of Daniel's swing, and the team liked the fact that Daniel performed well in the accelerated intrasquad games. Daniel doesn't hit for power, but he is a high-on-base-percentage type of player with a lot of speed.
"He's a good looking young player with bat speed," Boone said. "He gets the head to the ball all the time. He covers all parts of the zone. He hung in there against the Double-A and Triple-A pitchers. He had no problems at all. That's what you watch for."
Daniel, 22, is modest when talking about his abilities with the bat, but he said he always has had good eye coordination, and he continues to pick the brains of former big-league hitters such as Tony Tarasco and Tim Raines.
"Every day, I want to get better at hitting, and I know I can get better," Daniel said. "I want to get better at pretty much every aspect of the game," Daniel said.
Hitting has always been his strength, dating back to his college days at the University of North Carolina. After a shaky sophomore year, Daniel hit .320 and .351 the next two seasons, respectively. In his last season with the Tar Heels, Daniel had an on-base percentage of .420.
Daniel's success the last two years at UNC was one of the reasons the Nationals selected him in the seventh round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Daniel was signed almost immediately and was sent to Class A Vermont, where he had his ups and downs.
Daniel ended up hitting .260 with three home runs and 25 RBIs in 67 games. He said the long season of playing both college and professional baseball got to him physically. There was also something else that weighed heavily on his mind over the final two weeks of that season. Daniel is from New Orleans, and Hurricane Katrina devastated his hometown and he was thinking about his family and friends.
"It was an adjustment period," Daniel said. "I got off kind of slow and then got hot. Then at the end of the year, it felt like a monkey jumped on my back a little bit. It was a long season and I was coming off the college season. It was a good wakeup call for me.
"I had my grandmother, other family members and friends relocate. It affected me toward the end of my first year in pro ball. I was on the road and I'm watching the news, and I see New Orleans gets a hit like that -- it kept me from concentrating a little bit. I dedicated the 2006 season to them."
Daniel dedicated that offseason to shortening his swing, but it didn't pay dividends at first in 2006. The Nationals promoted him to Class A Savannah, where he struggled mightily. He struck out 52 times in 181 at-bats and had a .193 batting average. Daniel was then sent back to Vermont, where he prospered, batting .304 (55-for-181) with an on-base percentage of .376. He was named to the New York-Penn League All-Star Game. He credited Tarasco for getting his consistency back at the plate.
"He really worked with me every day and it carried over into this year," Daniel said.
Tarasco said that getting accustomed to the wood bats, confidence and hard work are the reasons for Daniel's success at Vermont.
"His work ethic is outstanding," Tarasco said. "He eats and sleeps baseball. He has a great stroke. He has outstanding speed. He works and is determined."
Daniel said he would like to start the 2007 season with Class A Potomac, but he most likely will begin at Class A Hagerstown.
"My goal is to go to Potomac, but at the same time, wherever they send you, you go play," he said.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.