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Zimmerman Placed On Fast Track

June 7, 2005
By Lacy Lusk

WASHINGTON--The worst-kept secret in Washington became official Tuesday when the Nationals announced the selection of fourth overall pick Ryan Zimmerman, a third baseman from Virginia.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Zimmerman won Nationals officials over with his defense and hitting ability for the Cavaliers, who made the NCAA tournament in consecutive years for the first time in school history. The 2004 Team USA MVP hit .393-6-59 as a junior, breaking his own school record with 92 hits.

"This is a player thats a leader. He is the kind of person that has tremendous presence and as you build a baseball team, makeup and character is always extremely important," general manager Jim Bowden said. "He has the leadership qualities that we always look for.

"Hes also a very special defensive player. Theres not a lot of really special defensive third basemen that come into our game, whether were speaking of the Brooks Robinsons or the Scott Rolens or the Ken Caminitis. But this player is one of those players. He has a great arm. His body control and agility are so good that we believe he could play shortstop in the big leagues."

Bowden, though, said the Nationals will play their first-ever draft pick as a third baseman and assign him to Double-A Harrisburg. Zimmerman, 20, will then play in the Arizona Fall League and participate in major league camp next spring. He was close to terms with the Nationals, and is expected to be a quick sign. "We feel like we added a special piece to the Washington Nationals organization," said scouting director Dana Brown, who also picked a Virginian in the first round last year in lefthander Bill Bray from William & Mary. "When you try to build a championship club, I know you look for pitching, defense and also timely hitting. Zimmerman is a very good defensive player and a really good hitter. We expect him to hit a high amount of doubles, drive in some runs and hit for a high average. And we feel there will be some power down the road."

Nationals third baseman Vinny Castilla, 37, is under contract through next year. Two of the organizations top 10 prospects, Triple-A New Orleans Brendan Harris and high Class A Potomacs Kory Casto, also play third.

"They're very close to home. It's a new team and a new city with a buzz about being in first place and a new ballpark coming in 2008. It reminds me of Virginia when I first got there. It's a team on the upswing," Zimmerman said.

Bowden was reluctant to put a timetable on Zimmermans possible big league arrival, but he did say he was "on the fast track." Bob Boone, a special assistant to Bowden who won seven Gold Gloves as a major league catcher, called Zimmermans hands "off the chart."

"You dont necessarily draft someone based on defense in our business--usually the bats the No. 1 tool--but his defensive ability is so special that it really pushed him up," Boone said. "And the bat is also special; he knows how the take the ball the other way, which is very important in this game."

In three seasons at Virginia, the Virginia Beach product hit .355 with 47 doubles and 140 RBI. With Team USA last summer, he led the team in all three Triple Crown categories at .468-4-27. Those experiences--and his maturity--have him ticketed for the Eastern League.

"The character issue is really important and had a lot to do with our decision to start him at Double-A, which is a pretty high starting place," Boone said. "We dont have the date, but youll see him in Harrisburg very soon. We do expect him to struggle a little bit, and it will take some time to figure it out."

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