VIERA, Fla. -- After third-base coach Bo Porter announced that he was leaving the Nationals to become the manager of the Astros in September, Nationals skipper Davey Johnson quickly made up his mind that Tony Tarasco would replace Porter as the outfield and baserunning coach while serving as the new first-base coach.
Tarasco had been working in Washington's Minor League system since 2006 as a hitting coach and outfield coordinator. To Johnson, it was a no-brainer that Tarasco would join the Major League staff. It helped that Johnson managed Tarasco when both were with the Orioles in the late 1990s. Years later, as Washington's senior advisor, Johnson saw Tarasco worked well with outfielders in the system.
"I got to see Tony work with young players and how they responded to him," Johnson said. "The minute [Porter] left, I knew it was going to be Tony Tarasco. We took a long time announcing it. He has a lot of talent to work with."
How does Tarasco feel about working in the Major Leagues?
"I get to spend time with my former Major League manager," Tarasco said. "It's an opportunity to work under him and learn some things. I'm excited to be part of the staff and help these guys."
It was Tarasco who helped turn a below-average shortstop named Michael Taylor into an above-average outfielder. Bryce Harper never played the outfield until after he was the first overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. But there was Tarasco teaching Harper the nuances of playing the outfield. Because of Tarasco's tutelage, Harper is more than an adequate outfielder.
"He was with me in the Minors the whole time," Harper said of Tarasco. "He really helped me out the whole time. He told me to be as smooth as I can, hit the cutoff guy, just do the right things in the outfield.
"He can make you go to the next level. Just be as soft as you can on your feet, try to catch everything you can. Be smart with your arm. He was my baserunning guy out there. He really taught me a lot."
Tarasco has the ability to connect with a lot of different personalities. When Harper was playing for Class A Hagerstown, for example, Tarasco wasn't afraid to tell Harper to not look ahead to the Major Leagues.
"Mentally, Tony would say, 'Stay in Hagerstown when you are in Hagerstown,'" Harper said. "'Stay in Harrisburg when you are there. Don't get too ahead of yourself. Make sure your mind is on [the Minor Leagues], not D.C. It's just a moment of time when you are up there. You need to keep focused on your [Minor League] team. Not the Nationals.'"
Tarasco said there are three reasons he works well with young players.
"I'm real. I come from the heart and it's about them," he said.
To Tarasco, it helps that he grew up in Los Angeles and hung out with a melting pot of people.
"I wasn't isolated to just one group or two groups," he said. "I grew up in a [multi-cultural environment]. That played a huge part in it. I listened to all kind of music growing up."
Tarasco also learned a lot while playing in the Braves' organization, the team that drafted him in the 1988 First-Year Player Draft. He learned to be on an even keel by being around coaches like Willie Stargell, who was the team's hitting coordinator.
"I took a lot from that guy. That guy represented a lot of things," Tarasco said. "He represented how to play the game -- mechanically, mentally. We used to call Willie even keel. Willie was the same guy. You didn't know he went 5-for-5 or 0-for-5. Me, Chipper Jones and Ryan Klesko spent a lot of time with Willie. I tip my hat to that organization for putting the people around me. I came up with some people who taught me how to play the game. I'm not reinventing anything. I'm giving the same things [the Braves] gave me."
While he plans to be a valuable teacher, Tarasco wants to be part of a ruthless mentality the Nationals have already established when it comes to running the bases.
"I would like to continue seeing them deliver the message to the opposing team that when we get off that bus, we are coming to play," Tarasco said. "I think with that attitude and that mentality, they have been able to turn some things around, and it has been a fun energy to watch."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less