Aaron Fitt took your Nationals questions
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections
of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development
personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards
of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time)
are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
The Nationals’ first season in Washington was a success, as the
team staged a surprising playoff run and finished .500 despite being
the majors’ lowest-scoring club. The struggles of free-agent acquisitions
Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman contributed to the Nationals’
offensive woes, though a trade for outfielder Jose Guillen worked out
well. The team’s strength was its pitching staff, which finished
with the ninth-best ERA in baseball, thanks largely to a terrific bullpen
and the emergence of John Patterson in the rotation.
But while the Nationals came together on the field, their front-office
future took longer to materialize. By the end of the season, there still
was no new ownership group in place. MLB still controls the club and
it’s uncertain how long the appointed general manager, Jim Bowden,
will remain with Washington, though he was given a six-month extension
with a new ownership group pending. The Nationals also will have to
wait until 2008 for a planned $440 million ballpark to be completed,
leaving them in RFK Stadium for two more seasons.
Bowden dismissed farm director Adam Wogan on Oct. 17 and named vice
president of ballpark operations Andy Dunn interim farm director. Wogan’s
firing came after another difficult year for Nationals affiliates, who
combined for a .438 winning percentage. The system’s top two prospects
entering the year, lefthander Mike Hinckley and first baseman Larry
Broadway, suffered from injuries and confidence problems.
Washington tried to reinstitute its instructional league program for
the first time in five years, planning on holding it at special assistant
to the GM Jose Rijo’s complex in the Dominican Republic. But construction
on the hotel where the players were to have stayed was behind schedule,
and the program was scrapped without the players ever getting on the
There was some good news, however. The big league club got some help
from the top of the farm system, as Ryan Church emerged in the outfield
and Gary Majewski was a revelation out of the bullpen. Prospects like
Collin Balester, Ian Desmond, Armando Galarraga, Kory Casto and Frank
Diaz had breakout years. And of course, first-round pick Ryan Zimmerman
zoomed to the majors.
The Guzman and Castilla signings deprived the club of its second- and
third-round picks, so scouting director Dana Brown tried to make up
for it by drafting high-upside outfielders Justin Maxwell and Ryan DeLaughter
in the fourth and fifth rounds before bolstering the organization’s
pitching depth with college arms. The returns on Brown’s recent
drafts have been encouraging, particularly given the lack of resources
at his disposal under the tight fiscal restraints imposed by MLB ownership
when the franchise was in Montreal. But Brown—who received a one-year
contract extension—and his scouts still have managed to find talent,
signing All-Star closer Chad Cordero and eight of the players on this
Top 10 list in his four years with the team.
21 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220 B-T: R-R
Virginia, 2005 (1st round) Signed by: Alex Smith
Background: Signed for $2.975 million after
being drafted No. 4 overall out of Virginia in June, Zimmerman wasted
no time asserting himself as the Nationals’ top prospect. Washington’s
scouting department had coveted Zimmerman for more than a year, dating
back to his breakout performance for Team USA in the summer of 2004, when
he set a national-team record with a .468 average to go with four home
runs and 27 RBIs in 77 at-bats. Zimmerman kept up his high level of play
for the Cavaliers as a junior, batting .393-6-59 with 17 stolen bases
on his way to second-team All-America honors. He already had proven he
could excel with a wood bat for Team USA, so his quick adjustment to pro
ball wasn’t a surprise. Zimmerman got a 17-at-bat tuneup at low
Class A Savannah, then hit for power and average at Double-A Harrisburg
before being called up to the majors Sept. 1. With Cristian Guzman struggling
mightily for their major league team, the Nationals tried Zimmerman out
at shortstop—where he had filled in occasionally at Virginia—for
eight games at Harrisburg. He showed the ability to play the position,
but his best spot is third base and that’s where he saw most of
his action with Washington.
Strengths: Zimmerman is a once-in-a-generation defender at the
hot corner, where his soft hands, good range to both sides and above-average
arm make for a legitimate Brooks Robinson-like package. He makes plays
coming in on bunts as well as any current major leaguer, is adept at
making backhand plays in the hole, and his throws are crisp and accurate
regardless of whether his feet are set or he’s throwing on the
run. Zimmerman is already a near-Gold Glover, and he should be a star
at the plate as well. He’s a polished hitter with excellent pitch
recognition and a patient approach. He doesn’t chase pitches out
of the zone and isn’t afraid to work the count, but if he gets
a pitch he likes he attacks it. He hits hard line drives to all fields,
and he also has over-the-fence power and projects to hit 20 homers annually
to go along with a .300-plus batting average. His speed is average.
Zimmerman’s makeup is off the charts, as he carries himself with
a quiet confidence and never gets rattled.
Weaknesses: Zimmerman just needs to keep playing to fine-tune
his offensive game. Shortly after signing, he made a minor adjustment,
quieting down some of the movement with his lower half and getting his
hands into position a little earlier rather than dropping them down.
As a result, his hands are more direct to the ball. There are no other
holes in his game.
The Future: He got to the big leagues in a hurry, and Zimmerman
could hold the Nationals’ third-base job for the next decade.
There’s a chance he could begin the season at Triple-A New Orleans,
and a couple hundred more minor league at-bats couldn’t hurt him,
but he’s just about ready to start in the majors now. He’s
a perennial Gold Glove winner and all-star in waiting.
Huntington Beach, Calif., 2004 (4th round) Signed
by: Tony Arango
Background: In his first full pro season, Balester
established himself as the system’s best pitching prospect. The
son of a surfboard shop owner in California, he shows a laid-back, unflappable
demeanor as well as excellent work habits.
Balester attacks hitters with a steady diet of 92-94 mph fastballs
on a steep downhill angle. Already a physical pitcher with a resilient
arm, he holds his velocity deep into games and could add more
as he continues to fill out. His power curveball, an average pitch
at times, is further along than the Nationals expected and could
end up being a plus offering.
Balester needs a better feel for throwing his curveball to righthanders
and further development of his changeup to reach his potential
as a frontline starter. Washington encouraged Balester to throw
at least 10 changeups per game this year, and it began to show
signs of developing into an average pitch.
Balester will open 2006 as a 19-year-old at high Class A Potomac.
After being limited to 125 innings in 2005, he’ll have free
reign to pitch deep into games and deep into the season. He profiles
as a No. 2 starter in the majors as soon as 2008.
HS—Houston, 2002 (1st round) Signed by: Ray Corbett
Background: The system’s No. 1 prospect
in 2003 and 2004, Everts was derailed by Tommy John surgery in September
2004. During his layoff, he grew a couple of inches and added 10-15 pounds
of muscle. He came back ahead of schedule, returning to the mound in late
Everts has a changeup that rates as a current 70 on the 20-80
scouting scale, and his curveball is also well above average,
though for the most part he was only allowed to throw it in bullpen
sessions. In order to build his arm strength back up, the Nationals
made Everts throw almost exclusively fastballs, which topped out
around 87 mph, and capped his outings at 50 pitches.
The key for Everts will be continuing to regain his arm strength
and improve his fastball command. He needs to be forced to throw
a fastball-heavy diet and hope his heater regains its previous
low-90s velocity. He also must develop better conditioning and
work habits, as well as learn how to pitch inside.
With two plus-plus offspeed pitches, Everts can still be a frontline
starter if his velocity returns. He’ll start 2006 at Potomac.
Background: The more the Nationals see of Desmond,
the more excited they get. He spent his first full pro season in Class
A at age 19, showing enough maturity to earn a midseason promotion to
Desmond’s actions simply make people believe he’ll
succeed. He has an athletic frame and plays with passion and confidence.
His soft hands, aggressive instincts, plus range and plus-plus
arm strength should make him an above-average defender at shortstop
with a little time.
Desmond occasionally tries to force plays in the field, resulting
in 39 errors in 2005, but the Nationals aren’t concerned
about his defense. He still has plenty of work to do offensively,
however. Desmond choked the bat, limiting his bat speed and extension,
so he had to rotate his grip. After making the adjustment, his
swing was shorter and quicker but he still chased too many pitches,
struggled to recognize offspeed pitches and had problems with
Desmond should start 2006 back in high Class A. His bat remains
uncertain, yet the Nats see him as their shortstop of the future.
Background: Because of 2002 Tommy John surgery,
Galarraga pitched just 54 innings in his first three seasons in the United
States. He stayed healthier once he began to take baseball more seriously
in 2004, and he had his best year yet in 2005, earning a berth in the
Futures Game and a promotion to Double-A.
Galarraga has a lively 92-94 mph sinker and a hard, sharp slider
that he can throw for strikes and use as an out pitch. He has
a strong, athletic frame and attacks hitters from a three-quarters
arm slot. He’s very competitive and shows a mean streak.
For Galarraga to stick as a starter, he needs to complement his
two plus offerings with a third pitch. He must continue to develop
his changeup, which shows some promise. He doesn’t walk
many batters but sometimes misses his spots inside the zone.
Galarraga can be a No. 3 starter if his changeup emerges. If that
doesn’t work out, he could be a powerful bullpen arm. He
figures to start 2006 back at Harrisburg but could earn a big
league promotion late in 2006.
2005 Club (Class)
Potomac (Hi A)
24 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 200
Portland, 2003 (3rd round) Signed by: Doug McMillan
Background: Casto’s prospect status jumped
when he converted from the outfield to third base and had a solid offensive
year in 2004. Now his star is even brighter after he made more strides
on offense while vastly improving his defense, which was voted the best
in the high Class A Carolina League by managers.
Strengths: Casto’s bat remains his best tool, as
he hits for power and average and uses all fields. He showed much
better pitch selection in 2005, nearly tripling his walk total
from the previous season. Defensively, he’s solid coming
in on slow rollers, making backhand plays and starting double
plays. His slightly above-average arm became more accurate after
he changed his arm slot.
Weaknesses: Casto still needs to work a bit on his first
step at third base. He’s a very streaky hitter who can get
into funks when he tries to make too many adjustments after an
0-for-4 day. He needs to relax.
The Future: With Ryan Zimmerman entrenched at third base,
the Nationals planned to experiment with Casto at second base
in the offseason. His bat should play in the big leagues even
if Zimmerman pushes him to the outfield. Casto should play third
base in Double-A in 2006.
2005 Club (Class)
Potomac (Hi A)
23 B-T: R-L Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 170
HS—Moore, Okla., 2001 (3rd round) Signed
by: Darrell Brown
Background: The system’s top prospect
entering 2005, Hinckley went to big league camp in the spring with a chance
to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. He began overthrowing and his
arm action got longer, which caused him to strain his shoulder and miss
the first month of the season. He spent the rest of the year stuck in
high Class A trying to regain his rhythm and stuff before going home to
Strengths: The completely healthy Hinckley of years past
featured outstanding command of three solid pitches—a low-90s
fastball, a hard-breaking curveball and a changeup. His makeup
always has drawn praise.
Weaknesses: Hinckley’s fastball velocity never quite
returned to normal in 2005, peaking at about 89 mph. His curveball
wasn’t as sharp and he struggled to find his command all
season, even after he was given a clean bill of health.
The Future: Hinckley needs to start fresh and learn lessons
from his first taste of injury and adversity. If he’s healthy,
he has the work ethic and stuff to be a quality mid-rotation starter
in the majors, perhaps even in 2006. He’ll probably start
the year in Double-A.
2005 Club (Class)
Potomac (Hi A)
22 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 215
William & Mary, 2004 (1st round) Signed by: Alex
Background: The Nationals spent consecutive
first-round picks on college relievers, hitting big with Chad Cordero
in 2003 and having high hopes for Bray, the 13th overall choice in 2004.
Tightness in his back sidelined him until late May in his first full season,
but he rose to Triple-A and showed no ill effects once he returned.
Strengths: Bray is a strong ox of a lefthander with a
pair of plus pitches—a heavy 91-94 mph fastball with darting
movement and a tight 81-84 mph slider. He’s effective against
lefties and righties and is not afraid to pitch inside.
Weaknesses: His slider can still be inconsistent at times,
though Bray generally commands it very well. Washington had toyed
with the idea of making him a starter, but his changeup still
has a long way to go because he used it little in college. His
biggest key is staying healthy.
The Future: More than a mere lefthanded specialist, Bray
can be a factor in the late innings. He’ll get the chance
to begin 2006 with the Nationals and serve as Cordero’s
2005 Club (Class)
Potomac (Hi A)
New Orleans (AAA)
25 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-4 Wt.: 230
Duke, 2002 (3rd round) Signed by: Dana Brown
Background: Broadway got off to a characteristically
slow start in 2005 before straining a knee ligament fielding a ground
ball. An injury to first baseman Nick Johnson caused Broadway to try to
rush his return, setting him back further. A bulky knee brace hindered
him when he returned, though he did hit nine homers in August.
Strengths: Broadway has above-average power to all fields,
and his pop stands out in a system desperate for some. He also
hits for a decent average and draws his share of walks. He’s
a solid defensive first baseman, overcoming his lack of range
with smooth actions, sure hands and an above-average arm.
Weaknesses: In order to make more consistent contact, Broadway
needs to stay behind the ball better. He could flourish if he
can start driving more pitches to the opposite field.
The Future: At age 25, Broadway heads into a pivotal season.
He could compete for a big league job if he can get completely
healthy by spring training, and he still can become a 30-homer
man in the majors.
HS—Mechanicsville, Md., 2003 (8th round) Signed
by: Alex Smith
Background: In his second straight season as
a teenager in the low Class A South Atlantic League, Thompson showed his
electric stuff can translate into results, as he lowered his ERA by 1.73
runs from 2004. But his breakout season was sidetracked in early July
when he was shut down for minor cleanup surgery on his shoulder.
Strengths: Like Balester, Thompson is mature, has a great
frame and loves to pitch with his fastball. He’s beginning
to fill out and he held the velocity on his 91-94 mph fastball
longer than he did in the past. His curveball continued to be
an average pitch most of the time, and his changeup improved a
Weaknesses: Thompson’s physical maturation will be
hastened if he learns to eat right and develop better work habits.
His health shouldn’t be an issue in 2006, as the Nationals
expect him to enter the spring at 100 percent. He just needs to
continue refining his secondary pitches.
The Future: Thompson figures to be another power arm in
the Potomac rotation in 2006. He could be a fixture in Washington’s
rotation by 2008.
2005 Club (Class)
Savannah (Lo A)
Everts: Rich Abel
Casto: Mike Janes
Zimmerman: Bill Mitchell
Bray, Broadway, Hinckley: Steve Moore
Desmond, Galarraga: Tom Priddy
Thompson: Sports On Film