Washington Nationals: Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports

Washington Nationals: Scouting Reports

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, 2009.

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Washington Nationals

Washington's inaugural season in brand-new Nationals Park peaked on Opening Day, when franchise player Ryan Zimmerman hit a walkoff home run to beat the Braves. It was all downhill from there, as no Nationals hitter drove in more than 61 runs and no Nats pitcher won more than 10 games while the club posted a major league-worst 59-102 record.

The shoddy on-field product depressed attendance, as Washington drew just 2.3 million fans—the lowest attendance figure for an inaugural year of a ballpark since the modern stadium boom began with Camden Yards in 1992.

There were few bright spots at the major league level. Lastings Milledge, a former überprospect acquired in an offseason trade with the Mets, led the club with 61 RBIs and tying Zimmerman with a team-best 14 homers. Elijah Dukes, another prodigiously talented outfielder added in an offseason deal, was the Nationals' most dangerous hitter when he wasn't sidelined by knee and calf injuries. Rookies Collin Balester and John Lannan settled into the majors as arms to build around.

It was an up-and-down year for the farm system. Washington's U.S. affiliates won 44 more games than they did a year ago and posted a combined winning record for the first time since 1998. Leading the way was high Class A Potomac, whose Carolina League championship was the first minor league title for a Nationals affiliate since the franchise moved to Washington in 2005. Several prospects who passed through Potomac took major steps forward, headlined by righthander Jordan Zimmermann, who emerged as the clear-cut top prospect in the organization.

But last year's No. 1 prospect, first baseman Chris Marrero, suffered a significant setback in June, when he broke his fibula and tore ligaments in his ankle sliding into home plate, ending his season. And with the exception of Zimmermann, many of the players from a 2007 draft rated by Baseball America as baseball's best crop that year didn't quite make the impact Washington hoped for last season.

The Nationals' 2008 draft wasn't nearly as productive, as they failed to come to terms with No. 9 overall pick Aaron Crow, who was widely regarded as the best righthander in the draft. Both sides drew lines in the sand and didn't start to compromise until hours before the Aug. 15 deadline. They couldn't bridge the gap between $3.5 million and $4 million at the end, leaving Washington with a compensatory pick (10th overall) in 2009—to go with the No. 1 overall choice it earned with its poor season.

The Nats didn't land Crow, but they did get a pair of high-ceiling prep outfielders in second-rounder Destin Hood and 15th-rounder J.P. Ramirez, who both received seven-figure bonuses. Still, Washington spent $3 million less on the draft last year than it did in 2007.

Even the Nationals' progress in Latin America was stunted. They announced their intention to be major players on the international scene by signing infielder Esmailyn Gonzalez for $1.4 million in 2006, but they didn't sign any international player for a six-figure bonus in 2008. Meanwhile, general manager Jim Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo were questioned by the FBI and Major League Baseball investigators in connection with a Latin America bonus-skimming scandal.

1.  Jordan Zimmermann, rhp   Born: May 23, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 200
 Drafted: Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 2007 (2nd round)Signed by: Steve Arnieri
Jordan ZimmermannBackground: After starring as a two-way player for NCAA Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point as a sophomore in 2006, Zimmermann exploded onto the prospect landscape that summer in the Northwoods League. He posted a circuit-best 1.01 ERA and 92 strikeouts, boosting his draft stock and ranking as the league's No. 1 prospect. That offseason, he broke his jaw in two places when he was struck by a line drive while throwing live batting practice in a workout. He missed the first three games of the season and lost 10 pounds, then had his wisdom teeth removed during the season. Zimmermann battled through the adversity, earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the Division III College World Series, where he pitched a complete-game one-hitter with 10 strikeouts against Emory (Ga.), and batted .615 with two homers in four games as a DH. The Nationals signed him for a $495,000 after getting him in the second round. Washington aggressively pushed him to high Class A Potomac to begin his first full pro season, and he needed just five starts to prove he was ready for Double-A Harrisburg, where he ranked as the Eastern League's No. 5 prospect.

Strengths: Zimmermann is the rare pitcher who projects to have four average or better offerings in the majors. He attacks hitters with a 90-94 mph four-seam fastball that occasionally touches 95. It's a heavy fastball with riding action, and he commands it very well to both sides of the plate, evoking Curt Schilling. Zimmermann also mixes in a sinking two-seamer around 90 mph. He holds his velocity deep into games, works quickly and pounds the strike zone. His slider was his No. 2 pitch in college, but the Nationals wanted him to focus more on tightening his curveball early in his pro career. As a result, he has added power to the curve, which now sits at 75-78 mph and rates as a fringe-average offering, projecting as solid-average or a tick above. His tight, hard-breaking 84-87 slider is mostly average now but has its moments as a plus pitch, and his straight changeup isn't far from being average. Zimmermann has a clean delivery from a high three-quarters slot and a strong, durable frame. His athleticism helps him field his position well, hold runners, handle the bat and bunt well.

Weaknesses: The Nationals forced Zimmermann to throw 15-20 changeups per game in 2008, and while his feel for the pitch is improving, he's still learning how and when to use it. He has good arm speed with the pitch and is effective when he throws it around 82 mph, but he tends to throw it a bit too hard. At times his delivery gets a little too rotational, causing him to get on the side of his slider and turning it into more of a cutter. The slider can be a plus pitch if he can stay on top of it more often. His curveball also lacks consistency.

The Future: Zimmermann is a quick learner who excels at gathering information and making adjustments. It's easy to envision him improving his secondary stuff quickly and reaching the big leagues by the 2009 all-star break, if not sooner. He profiles as a frontline starter—probably a solid No. 2 on a first-division club.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Potomac (Hi A) 3 1 1.65 5 4 0 1 27 15 1 8 31 .167
Harrisburg (AA) 7 2 3.21 20 20 0 0 107 89 9 39 103 .226
2.  Ross Detwiler, lhp   Born: March 6, 1986B-T: R-LHt: 6-5Wt: 185
 Drafted: Missouri State, 2007 (1st round)Signed by: Ryan Fox
Ross DetwilerBackground: Signed for $2.15 million as the No. 6 overall pick in 2007, Detwiler made a big league cameo in just his 10th professional appearance. He spent his first full pro season in 2008 on a strict pitch count in high Class A, where he carried a 5.86 ERA into July before an improved changeup helped him post a 3.84 ERA and a 52-18 strikeout-walk ratio over the final two months.

Strengths: When he's on, as he was during the Carolina League playoffs, Detwiler features two plus pitches and flashes a third. His four-seam fastball can sit between 92-94 mph and touch 96 with explosive life, and his two-seamer has power sink. Detwiler's power curveball has tight 1-to-7 break, and he has the makings of a plus changeup with good arm speed and fade.

Weaknesses: Detwiler's mechanics are inconsistent, causing his fastball velocity to dip into the high 80s and affecting his command. Especially in the first half, he threw too far across his body and often struggled to get through his pitches, so the Nationals worked hard on straightening his direction to the plate. It's an ongoing process, but he showed much better alignment in the Arizona Fall League. He's also working on quickening his times to the plate and holding baserunners better. He still must add strength to his wiry frame.

The Future: Detwiler has the highest ceiling of any pitcher in the system. He'll start 2009 in Double-A, and some club officials believe he'll be in the big leagues by September.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Potomac (Hi A) 8 8 4.86 26 26 0 0 124 140 8 57 114 .289
3.  Chris Marrero, 1b   Born: July 2, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS-Opa Locka, Fla., 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Tony Arango
Chris MarreroBackground: A first-round pick in 2006 who signed for $1.625 million, Marrero entered 2008 as Washington's top prospect but struggled out of the gate, batting .200 with two homers in April. The Nationals noticed he was standing too far off the plate, and he heated up as he improved his plate coverage. But his season was cut short on June 18 when he caught his right cleat in the dirt while sliding into home plate, breaking his fibula and tearing ligaments in his ankle.

Strengths: Marrero has well above-average power from foul pole to foul pole, and his quiet swing has natural leverage. He squares balls up consistently and has a mature offensive approach for his age, projecting as at least an average hitter. He's very driven to succeed and is a tireless worker.

Weaknesses: After moving from the outfield to first base in 2007, Marrero got bigger and now there's concern he could wind up as a DH, though he dropped a few pounds in the fall of 2008. He's a well below-average runner with below-average range at first, but he does have soft hands and a strong arm.

The Future: Though his ankle wasn't yet 100 percent, Marrero went to instructional league and had no trouble swinging the bat. He should be healthy by spring training and figures to get a shot at Double-A by midseason, if not out of camp. He has a chance to be an impact middle-of-the-order bat in the big league lineup by 2010.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Potomac (Hi A) .250 .325 .453 256 40 64 15 2 11 38 25 55 0
4.  Michael Burgess, of   Born: Oct. 20, 1988B-T: L-LHt: 5-11Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS—Tampa, 2007 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Paul Tinnell
Michael BurgessBackground: Burgess ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League after the Nationals drafted him in 2007 out of Tampa's Hillsborough High. Washington challenged him in his first full pro season, starting him at low Class A Hagerstown, where he bashed 18 homers in four months and easily won the South Atlantic League home run derby with 16 longballs in 38 swings. After a late promotion to high Class A, his power display continued but his average dipped.

Strengths: Burgess' best tool is his plus-plus raw power, which translates to excellent home run production in games, particularly to right field. He also is capable of driving the ball to the opposite field and got better doing so in 2008. His plus arm helped him lead the minor leagues with 26 outfield assists. His routes in right field have improved.

Weaknesses: Burgess' tendency to overswing leads to very high strikeout totals. He's starting to learn that he doesn't need to swing so hard to drive the ball, but he doesn't ever project to hit for a high average, despite good hand-eye coordination. He's an upright runner with below-average speed who's not particularly fluid in the field or on the basepaths.

The Future: Assuming Burgess keeps his weight in check and tones down his aggressive approach a bit, he profiles as a power-hitting right fielder in a big league lineup.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Hagerstown (Lo A) .249 .335 .469 401 60 100 26 4 18 60 46 136 5
Potomac (Hi A) .225 .325 .521 71 12 16 3 0 6 19 9 26 0
5.  Jack McGeary, lhp   Born: March 19, 1989B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS—West Roxbury, Mass. (6th round)Signed by: Mike Alberts
Jack McGearyBackground: In order to buy the cerebral McGeary out of a commitment to Stanford, the Nationals not only had to give him a sixth-round-record $1.8 million bonus, but they had to pay for him to attend classes at Stanford from September through early June for the first three years of his career. He didn't report for the 2008 season until mid-June, then led the Gulf Coast League with 64 strikeouts in 60 innings.

Strengths: McGeary is very advanced for his age and experience level. He has superb feel for his plus curveball, which he can throw in the mid-70s with tight 12-to-6 action, or with more lateral break by dropping his arm angle, or with bigger, slower break for first-pitch strikes. After pitching at 85-87 mph with his fastball during his pro debut, he worked at 88-91 in 2008. He commands his fastball well.

Weaknesses: McGeary is very dedicated to his offseason workout regimen, but he still needs to add strength, like most young pitchers. He's learning to throw his changeup when behind in the count, and he must improve his command of the pitch. It has good action and projects as an average offering, but it remains inconsistent.

The Future: McGeary is ready for low Class A once he rejoins the Nationals in June. He projects as a mid-rotation starter in the Andy Pettitte mold.
2008 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
GCL Nationals (R) 2 2 4.07 12 12 0 0 60 61 2 13 64 .258
Vermont (SS) 0 0 4.50 1 1 0 0 4 6 0 3 5 .375
6.  Derek Norris, c   Born: Feb. 14, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 210
 Drafted: HS—Goddard, Kan., 2007 (4th round)Signed by: Ryan Fox
Derek NorrisBackground:  A year after hitting .203 in his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League, Norris took the greatest step forward of any Nats farmhand in 2008. Playing against mostly older competition as a 19-year-old, Norris led the short-season New York-Penn League with 63 walks—22 more than any other hitter in the league—and ranked as its No. 4 prospect.

Strengths: As evidenced by his walk total, Norris has a very patient offensive approach. His strong, sturdy build produces solid-average to plus power, mostly to left field, though he has improved at using the right-center gap. He loves to hit and works hard at his offensive game. He has a strong arm and a quick release, helping him throw out an NY-P-best 47 percent of basestealers in 2008. He runs well for a catcher.

Weaknesses: Norris didn't start catching until his senior year of high school after spending three years at third base, and his receiving remains very raw, as his 16 passed balls last year attest. He tends to pick balls in the dirt instead of blocking them. The Nationals want him to take more pride in his defense, but some club officials question whether he'll stick behind the plate long-term.

The Future: If Norris can become just adequate defensively, his bat could make him a star in the big leagues. He'll advance to low Class A in 2009.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Vermont (SS) .278 .444 .463 227 42 63 12 0 10 38 63 56 11
7.  Destin Hood, of   Born: April 30, 1990B-T: R-RHt: 6-1Wt: 180
 Drafted: HS—Mobile, Ala., 2008 (2nd round)Signed by: Eric Robinson
Destin HoodBackground: Hood starred as a shortstop and wide receiver at St. Paul's Episcopal High in Mobile, Ala.—Jake Peavy's alma mater—and committed to play both baseball and football at Alabama. The Nationals took him in the second round and gave him an above-slot $1.1 million bonus to keep him away from the Crimson Tide. They immediately moved him to left field and sent him to the Gulf Coast League, where he raised his average from .175 to .256 over the season's final 13 games.

Strengths: Scouts long have marveled at Hood's electrifying bat speed, which translates into plus raw power. He swings and misses a lot now, but he keeps the barrel of the bat in the zone for a long time and projects to hit for average as his approach matures. He has a strong, athletic frame and average to plus speed.

Weaknesses: Underdeveloped as an outfielder, Hood has a long way to go with his reads, jumps and routes. Washington has put him on a long-toss program in an effort to strengthen his below-average arm. He doesn't have a smooth arm action and doesn't use his lower half well when he throws. Offensively, he simply needs experience and refinement.

The Future: Unless Hood blows the Nationals away in spring training, he'll likely spend 2009 at short-season Vermont, following the same developmental path as 2007 draftee Derek Norris. Down the road, Hood has a chance to be a potent middle-of-the-order bat in the big leagues.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Nationals (R) .256 .333 .349 86 18 22 6 1 0 14 8 19 5
8.  Adrian Nieto, c   Born: Nov. 12, 1989B-T: R-RHt: 6-0Wt: 200
 Drafted: HS—Plantation, Fla., 2008 (5th round)Signed by: Tony Arango
Adrian NietoBackground: Nieto and his parents came to the United States from Cuba on a makeshift raft when he was 8. He began catching shortly thereafter and joined a travel team with future No. 3 overall pick Eric Hosmer when he was 11. As high school seniors, they helped lead a loaded American Heritage High team to BA's final No. 1 national ranking, with Nieto blasting two homers in the state championship game. He signed three days before the Aug. 15 signing deadline for a $376,000 bonus.

Strengths: A switch-hitter, Nieto shows solid-average power to all fields from both sides of the plate. He has a good feel for hitting from both sides. A natural leader who exudes confidence, Nieto knows what pitchers are trying to do to him when he's batting and also knows how to attack hitters when he's behind the plate. His arm is a tick above-average but plays up because of his quick release, accuracy and aggressiveness.

Weaknesses: Nieto is still working hard on refining his defensive skills, from his receiving to his footwork to fielding bunts and popups. He needs to concentrate on keeping himself in better shape. At the plate, he's still developing his pitch recognition.

The Future: Nieto has all the tools and intangibles to be a solid regular big league catcher in the Jorge Posada mold. He figures to get a shot at low Class A sometime in 2009.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Nationals (R) .217 .308 .348 23 1 5 3 0 0 3 2 7 0
9.  J.P. Ramirez, of   Born: Sept. 29, 1989B-T: L-LHt: 5-10Wt: 185
 Drafted: HS—New Braunfels, Texas, 2008 (15th round)Signed by: Tyler Wilt
J.P. RamirezBackground: Ramirez hit .395 for the U.S. junior national team in 2007 and batted .521 with eight homers as a high school senior to help establish his reputation as the best pure hitter in the Texas draft crop. His bonus demands and commitment to Tulane dropped him to the 15th round, but the Nationals signed him for $1 million in the hours before the Aug. 15 signing deadline as it became apparent they wouldn't sign first-rounder Aaron Crow.

Strengths: Ramirez has a smooth, compact lefthanded stroke and an advanced feel for hitting. He smokes hard line drives from gap to gap and showed at least average power in an impressive instructional league stint. Scouts praise his mature approach and high-quality makeup.

Weaknesses: With fringy speed and a below-average arm, Ramirez will be tied to left field in pro ball. Some club officials believe he'll end up with an average arm in time, but he's also got a lot of work to do on his reads and jumps in the outfield.

The Future: It's unclear if Ramirez will develop enough power to hold down an everyday job in left field at the major league level, and some scouts see him as a tweener. Others, however, see him as a hitting machine in the David Dellucci mold.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Nationals (R) .364 .533 .364 11 2 4 0 0 0 8 4 0 0
10.  Esmailyn Gonzalez, ss   Born: Sept. 21, 1989B-T: B-RHt: 5-11Wt: 175
 Signed: Dominican RepublicSigned by: Jose Rijo
Esmailyn GonzalezBackground: Though his $1.4 million bonus in 2006 remains controversial, Gonzalez started to give Washington a return on its investment in 2008. After hitting .245 in his 2007 pro debut, he repeated the Gulf Coast League and won the batting title with a .343 average.

Strengths: With a quiet swing and excellent plate discipline for his age, Gonzalez projects to hit for average with gap power and occasional home run pop. The Nationals got on him to firm up his body some and add strength, which helped him drive more balls last year. He also made plenty of progress using the whole field from both sides of the plate. Defensively, he shows smooth actions and soft hands that give him an outside chance to stay at shortstop. Nicknamed "Smiley" in part for his energy and enthusiasm, he showed more vocal on-field leadership in 2008.

Weaknesses: Gonzalez's substandard range and arm strength are still likely to dictate an eventual move to second base. He's a below-average runner who lacks first-step quickness. He's still far from fluent in English.

The Future: If Gonzalez continues to get stronger, he could wind up as a quality all-around second baseman, similar to Jose Vidro but with less power. In the short term, he'll remain at shortstop and advance to low Class A.
2008 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Nationals (R) .343 .431 .421 181 42 62 12 3 2 33 23 19 9

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Photo Credits:
Zimmermann (Kevin Pataky)
Detwiler, Marrero, Burgess, Norris (Rodger Wood)
McGeary (Ed Wolfenstein)
Ramirez (Brian Bissell)
Gonzalez (Cliff Welch)