Washington Nationals: Top 10 Prospects Chat With Aaron Fitt

Washington Nationals: Chat




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.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
Had he signed, would Crow have been the #1 prospect? Also, do you see the Nats possibly taking a second shot at him, come June?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, sorry I'm late — I will make it up to you by going longer at the end, OK?

Aaron Fitt: Crow definitely would have been No. 1 or No. 2 — it's hard to know exactly whether or not he would have ranked higher than Zimmermann, who has already reached Double-A, but my gut says Crow probably would have gotten the edge, because I see a bit more upside with him. After the way the negotiations went this year, I would be shocked if the Nats draft him again. I also have a feeling he'll be gone between their first overall pick and No. 10 overall when they pick again — I bet he'll put the word out there that he'll sign for a deal similar to Luke Hochevar's when he went No. 1 overall out of Fort Worth, and somebody will take him in the top five. Just a hunch.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
How far off the Top 10 was Josh Smoker? Does he still possess great secondary stuff, or has he slipped in that department?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Smoker had a rotten year. Shoulder discomfort kept him in the mid-80s with his fastball, and it had no life. His secondary stuff was decent but not nearly as good as it once was. The Nationals hope he'll be better after having surgery to clean up a bone spur in his shoulder this offseason, but there are no guarantees with shoulder injuries, and he slipped into the 20s on the list this year.

 Q:  Katie from RI asks:
Who would you say has better overall tools at this point - Hood or Maxwell? How far off the Top 10 did Maxwell land?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Great question. I like Maxwell slightly better as an overall athlete — he runs better and can play center field, whereas Hood is really a fringe-average runner and will be limited to left (both have below-average arms). The biggest separator is that I believe Hood projects as a better hitter — he has more raw power and a better feel for hitting. I see Maxwell more as a guy who won't hit much better than .250 in the big leagues, with 20-25 homers. You can dream on Hood being a .300 hitter with 30-35 homers, though he's a long way off from that. Maxwell just missed the top 10, coming in at No. 11.

 Q:  Ryan from Washington DC asks:
Aaron: I was wondering your opinion of the progress the system has made since the Lerner's have taken over the team. How far have we come in that 2+ years?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: On the whole, the system has definitely gotten better, though some of its more advanced players took steps back this year. Still, the depth is what stands out more to me — there are a lot more players who have at least a chance to be solid big leaguers than there were a few years ago.

 Q:  Paul from Erie, PA asks:
Hi, thanks for the chat. Where did Martis land overall?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Martis came in at No. 13 — good competitor with a very good chance to be a back-of-the-rotation starter, but his ceiling is limited to that, really. I put him just behind Garrett Mock, who has a little more upside.

 Q:  Brian from Alexandria, VA asks:
Aaron - Is the presence of three players from the 2008 draft a function of poor performances by the players who were already in the organization prior to the draft or something positive about the three?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Brian, it's a combination of both, I think. Certainly Hood, Nieto and Ramirez are quality prospects, but ideally you'd like to see players with that little pro experience in the 10-20 range rather than the 6-9 range. Remember, the Nats graduated two players from last year's top 10 (Balester and Lannan), but others took significant steps backward (Smoker, Willems, and others a little lower like Adam Carr, Tyler Clippard). Trading Jake Smolinski and P.J. Dean also hurt the rankings — I suspect Dean at least would have ranked in the top 10 — though I do like that trade for Washington.

 Q:  JAYPERS from IL asks:
It's my understanding that when the Nats first drafted McGeary, they wanted him in a reliever's role. I see you project him as a mid-rotation starter. Which role are the Nats thinking would be best for him?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I've never heard any scout or player development official project McGeary as a reliever. He's got a starter's repertoire, a starter's build and a starter's makeup. He's a starter all the way.

 Q:  Mick from Tampa asks:
I see you don't have either Norris or Nieto in the catcher's role on your 2012 lineup card. Why is this?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Because they still have Jesus Flores, who is a young and talented catcher already in the big leagues. That doesn't mean we necessarily believe Flores will be the catcher in 2012 — those projected starting lineups are really intended more as a snapshot of the strengths and weaknesses of an organization's talent at the big league and minor league levels than an actual projection. My guess is one of those two catchers develops into a major league-caliber starting catcher by 2012, and Flores is moved. But at this point, who knows?

 Q:  Dan from Fairfield, CA asks:
44 days 'til Vanderbilt @ Stanford. The waiting seems to be the hardest part. When can we expect the college preview material to start showing up? Is Stephen Strasburg the unofficial #1 Nationals prospect?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: That should be a great opening series out on the West Coast. College top 25 comes out in a couple of weeks, and college preview content starts rolling out in the two weeks after that. And yes, Strasburg is the unequivocal favorite to be the Nationals' choice with the No. 1 overall pick, and I don't care what his pricetag is — the Nats need a win in the draft after the Crow fiasco, and he would be quite a win, indeed.

 Q:  Mudcatsfan from Raleigh, NC asks:
Marrero seemed to be on his way to stardom before the 2008 season, Do you feel he will pickup where he left off in 2009 or will the lost time and injury drop his potential / ceiling down a notch in your mind?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I really do believe in Marrero's bat, which is why I ranked him ahead of Burgess, and I suspect 2009 will be a major bounce-back year for him. Remember, he was finally getting hot before he broke his ankle this year — that first-month slump was just a typical growing pain and nothing to worry about. He was back hitting this fall and his ankle will be 100 percent by the spring, so I really don't downgrade his potential much at all.

 Q:  John from Alexandria, VA asks:
Since 2006, the Nationals have used the majority of their early draft picks (rounds 1-5) on high school players. Fourteen of the twenty players they've selected in that timeframe are high schoolers (they signed thirteen of them). By using such a large proportion of their early picks on the high risk/reward players, are they maximizing the rebuilding effort? Could they not go after more known quantities and still get these high risk/reward high schoolers in later rounds a la McGeary or Ramirez?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I don't have any problem with their drafting approach, partly because they have a pretty high success rate with their college picks. Going back before 2006, Ryan Zimmerman, Chad Cordero, Bill Bray and Jerry Owens all reached the big leagues quickly, and Jordan Zimmermann is on the fast track to join them. Those guys have given them some short-term returns while they wait for the prep guys to develop. If some of those high school guys hit it big — and it's entirely possible that guys like Marrero, Burgess, McGeary, Hood, Nieto, etc. could be core players for the Nationals — then it will be worth the wait.

 Q:  Karl of Delaware from Georgetown, Delaware asks:
The GCL team had a bunch of .300 plus hitters: Curran, Labrie, Higley, and Esmailyn Gonzalez. I know Gonzalez is ranked 10th of Nationals prospects. Did any of the other guys crash the top 30 handbook list?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: None of them did, although Higley and Curran were close. I like both of them as prospects — good athletes with a good feel for hitting. Curran is undersized by can really fly and has surprising strength in his swing; he was a great find for area scout Tony Arango in the 22nd round. And Higley is probably a slightly better prospect than Curran because he has more offensive upside. If he grows into his body and starts hitting for power, I could envision him being a quality big league right fielder with a good arm. Excellent value in the ninth round, and a guy that could really jump up the list next year. Labrie has a lot more work to do to establish himself as a prospect.

 Q:  Chris from NYC asks:
Hey Aaron, Great work, thanks a lot for all your work. Ive been a big fan of Colt Willems and Stephen King and was wondering what you heard about them and how close they were to the top 10? Will both be in Potomac this year? Thanks a lot
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I've been very disappointed in Willems' development — he has just never missed bats in pro ball and has never shown the kind of electric stuff he had in high school. This year he worked mostly in the 87-90 range, though at least he made it through the whole season healthy. He is making progress on his secondary stuff, but he has yet to really settle on a curve or a slider, which has been one of his problems in pro ball. He dropped down into the 20s on the list this year. The Nationals still really like King, but I'm not sure I believe in the bat yet, though I like his all-around tools package. He also ranked in the 20s on this year's list. You can expect both guys to start the year in Potomac.

 Q:  David from Nashville asks:
I'm curious to know about Leonard Davis. He had a terrific year, and I was wondering if he was a late bloomer that could do something or if he was just picking on the younger kids in the CL and EL?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Davis is definitely a prospect who has been on the prospect landscape a few years now — he ranked 20th on the Nats list in 2006. He really took a step forward in 2008 thanks largely to an improved offensive approach. Davis has very good power to the opposite field, but this year was really the first time he successfully went the other way instead of trying to pull everything. It took him a little longer to get there, but it has clicked for him. I like his bat but I'm still not positive he'll hit enough to be an everyday left fielder. He's athletic enough to fill in all over the diamond, and that might be his best role — as a utility guy with a power bat off the bench.

 Q:  Karl of Delaware from Georgetown, Delaware asks:
Brad Peacock bombed at Hagerstown, but got back on track after a demotion to Vermont. Does a premature promotion like this have any neglible long term affect? What does he throw? I'm particularily curious about a mid 80's pitch that sometimes breaks left and other times breaks right.
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Last year was definitely a learning experience for Peacock, but the Nationals think he'll actually benefit from taking his lumps in the first half. He got his confidence back in Vermont and was very good in instructional league, so some Nats officials think he'll take off next year. He pitches with a 90-93 mph fastball and a curve and changeup that both have a chance to be average big league offerings. He's not real big and needs to add strength, but he's athletic and still won't be 21 until February.

 Q:  Ken Rule from Lakewood CA asks:
Hi Aaron. Thanks for the chat. Justin Maxwell is shown as the best athlete for National's prospects, but isn't in the Top Ten. Interesting. Has he fallen that much? What's the story on him? Also, if Guzman is still the 2012 SS (I know you writers don't put a lot of stock in the projected line ups)that tells me the cupboard is bare in Washington regarding SS?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I addressed Maxwell already — nice tools, but the bat is still somewhat suspect, though I really like the patience he showed at the plate this year. As for shortstop, you could make a case for a guy like Danny Espinosa in that 2012 shortstop slot — he's a solid prospect who could move fairly quickly, if he hits at the higher levels. We stuck with Guzman, because he was an All-Star this year and will still be just 34 in 2012.

 Q:  Chris from Milwaukee asks:
How likely is Michael Burgess to be a major league star? What is his ETA? Thanks
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I really see Burgess as a boom-or-bust guy. If he refines his offensive approach enough to reach the big leagues, then I believe he will hit quite a few home runs and be a star. Or he could struggle to hit against more advanced pitching and fizzle out in the high minors. Of course, I suppose the third option is that he becomes a Wily Mo Pena type player, a guy with enormous power who reaches the majors and just strikes out a ton and never puts it together. In a nutshell, he's just a classic high-risk, high-reward kind of player. As for ETA, I'd say 2011 or so — I suspect he'll need some time to iron out the offensive approach.

 Q:  Nick from Old Greenwich, CT asks:
I know this is assuming a little, but I will ask anyway. How good would the Nats 2013 rotation be with Zimmerman, Balester, Detwiler and here is the assumption Steven Strasburg?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: With guys like Jack McGeary and Scott Olsen also in the mix, that rotation has a chance to be scary-good, if everything breaks right. That's a big "if", of course...

 Q:  Tricky Kid from The District asks:
Did BA overrate the Nationals' system last year (it was pretty high in the overall rankings) or was it just a series of bad performances at the same time by the Nats top guys?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I don't think we overrated the system. If guys like Detwiler, Marrero, Smoker and Willems bounce back, and if McGeary takes off once the Nats finally let him go to full-season ball, this system could be right back up in the top 10 next year, and that's not even considering the new additions like Hood, Nieto, Ramirez, Hicks, Higley, Atwood, etc. That said, the Nationals slid down our farm system rankings this year because guys like Marrero, Detwiler, Smoker and Willems had down years (for varying reasons). That doesn't mean those guys are no longer prospects or that the system is bad, it's just a reflection of the kind of years they had.

 Q:  Mudcatsfan from Raleigh, NC asks:
Josh Smoker, What did he do better in Rookie Ball that he couldnt' do in the SAL. From just seeing the stats, I see he eliminated the long ball, and perhaps tried to pitch to contact more as his K's were down, but so were his hits. Dramatically so. He's obviously still very young, so how alarming was the drubbing he took in Low A? Obviously pretty bad as he missed the top 10.
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: The thing is, his stuff didn't get any better in the GCL — he just was able to use his more advanced savvy to beat more raw hitters. Most people in the Washington system were quite down on him as a prospect — I was surprised, in fact, how low he ranked on many internal pecking orders. So it certainly seems like the organization, at least, was alarmed by his 2008, no matter that they say he should be healthy again by the spring. Hard to really get a read on Smoker right now — let's just wait and see.

 Q:  John from Los Angeles asks:
What are your reports and thoughts about Marvin Lowrance, seems like he can really hit.
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: For Lowrance, it's more mental than anything. He has a very nice lefthanded stroke with power potential, but he has a tendency to out-think himself. After hitting 20 homers last year, he was crushed when he was sent back to Potomac to start the year, and he pressed a lot in the first half to show people he belonged at the next level. Once he finally got promoted to Harrisburg, he relaxed and had better results. He also needs to watch his weight — he put on 15 pounds or so last offseason that affected his athleticism. He's got a chance because of his bat, but he's still got a lot to prove, and he's 24 now. He did not crack the top 30.

 Q:  Mudcatsfan from Raleigh, NC asks:
Last year it was mentioned that Colten Willems grew 2 inches over the summer and scrapped his slider for a curve. I was hoping to hear if all that change has affected his results or if he just merely had a mediocre year in 2008. Is he still touching mid 90's? Has the height affected his delivery? Might he go back to the slider?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Last thing on Willems — the Nationals let him go back to the slider in 2008 and he had some success with it, but then he was throwing curves again in instructional league. I don't see him being a four-pitch guy — he's really got to settle on one and stick with it. He had the most success as a pitcher when he was throwing a slider in high school, and I think that pitch works better with his arm slot. I think he'll have the most luck with that one.

 Q:  Skills from Beltway Blues asks:
What is your opinion on the arrangement granted to McGeary? It seems like it hurts the player as he is probably not in the proper shape when he reports in June. It also hurts the Nats that they only are getting a part-time player not developing at the rate he should be. Basically, under this 3 year arrangement, the Nats are losing 1 full year of development time.
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I will say this: McGeary is an incredibly mature kid for his age, and he works very hard in the offseason to make sure he comes to camp in shape. That part of it is not a concern for the Nationals. Yes, the Nationals are losing some development time with McGeary, but they knew that when they signed him — it was the concession they had to make to sign him. They are very excited about his potential and believe it was a worthwhile trade-off, though obviously they'd prefer to have him year round. I actually side with the team on this one; you don't want to make a habit of awarding contracts like that, but he's got a chance to be a pretty special player, so I'm OK with them doing what had to be done in order to sign him.

 Q:  David from Fort Worth asks:
Where does Martin Beno rank (if at all) in the Top 30? Do you think he makes Chad Cordero nervous at this point?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Beno did not make the top 30 this year — still flashes big-time stuff, with a fastball up to 95 and a nasty curveball, but he's very inconsistent with his command and mechanics. Definitely still a guy to keep an eye on, though.

 Q:  Matt S. from Chicago asks:
What is your take on Destin Hood? Is he a baseball player with tools? Or is he a toolsy athlete trying to be a baseball player?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I see him as the former. He's actually not as raw as you might expect for a two-sport guy right out of high school. The fundamentals of his swing are very encouraging — he keeps the bat in the zone for a long time and has lightning-quick hands. Those are excellent indicators of future success. That's not to say he's polished — he certainly has plenty of developing to do in all phases — but I don't think he's a football guy first who will struggle to pick up the nuances of baseball.

 Q:  John Klenk from Stephens City Virginia asks:
I follow the Nats minor leaguers quite closely . There is one young man who plays first base. What a nice smooth swing! Bill Rhinehart How does he figure in their plans? He made rapid rise throuh system lastyear. Thank you!
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Rhinehart might have been the most pleasant surprise in the system this year. He has climbed into the top 30 at No. 17, and some people in the organization even like him as a borderline top 10 guy, which says a lot about how far he has come since being drafted in the 11th round as a college senior first baseman who lacked plus power (hardly a prototypical prospect profile). But he has a tremendous feel for hitting, a professional approach and a very nice, quiet lefthanded swing. He's got a chance to be a solid regular first baseman in the Nick Johnson/Lyle Overbay mold — expect a lot of doubles, a good average and occasional home run pop to the pull side.

 Q:  john from viera,fl asks:
was surprised to see that paul demny did not make the list. How close did he come and does he have a chance to make high A this year? thanks
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I like Demny's arm strength. He's a big, physical ox with an 88-93 mph fastball that has reached 96 in the past, but he's very raw. His secondary stuff is crude and he needs work on refining his mechanics. He's an interesting prospect with plenty of upside, but not yet a top 30 guy.

 Q:  Jerry from central valley, CA asks:
The NATS made a fairly aggressive run at Teixeira during the offseason for a long term contract, does this say anything about how they view Marrero in their plans at first base for the future? How is Marrero recovering from his injury, and do you think he can possibly reach triple-A by the end of this season?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I don't think it has anything to do with Marrero, just as Boston's pursuit of Teixeira is definitely not a reflection on Lars Anderson. Teixeira could have been a franchise player for the Nationals to build around, and they had to make run at him — if they landed him, they would have crossed the Marrero bridge when they got there. With that pursuit having failed, Marrero is definitely the first baseman of the future.

 Q:  Ben from Leland Grove asks:
What are your thoughts on Steven Souza? Prospect or suspect?
 A: 

Moderator: He's certainly a prospect — it's a nice raw tools package, with power potential, a strong arm and good athleticism. But he needs to get a lot better at third base and must make more consistent contact at the plate. He's got upside, but there's plenty of risk with him.

 Q:  Jim from Florida asks:
Will Chris Marrero eventually be an excellent (35+ HR), good (25-35 HR) or average (<25 HR) power hitter in the majors?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I would be willing to bet that he'll be at least a "good" hitter, according to your parameters. And he's got a real chance to climb into that "excellent" category.

 Q:  RJ from Washington, DC asks:
Too bad they didn't take Smoak with the Crow pick, what a disaster! What's the Nats' biggest organizational need and how do you predict they fill it with their top two picks? Thank you!
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: The thing is, Crow was absolutely the right pick, IF they had properly gauged his signability. To me, that's a major failure if they drafted him and honestly didn't know what his asking price was. Maybe they just thought he wasn't serious about his demands (and to be fair, his asking price did drop some $6 million, so clearly they were partly right), but the bottom line is they misjudged the situation. But to get him at No. 9 should have been a coup — he was the second-best pitcher in the draft. As for next year, I think they'll go Strasburg with the first pick, and a high school guy with the second — I'll go with Texas prep righty Shelby Miller. Although Donovan Tate sure looks like the kind of player Jim Bowden loves...

 Q:  Chris from Bothell, WA asks:
Hey Aaron. Really appreciate the work you do for the magazine! How do you see the three Washington state players panning out? Stephen Englund, Andrew LeFave, and Steven Souza? Englund has had maturity issues and has been slow to develop, LeFave struggled a bit last year and Souza had an injury riddled first full year. Thoughts?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I like Souza the best of that group. I see Englund as a washout, and LeFave as an organizational player.

 Q:  jr from valencia,ca asks:
what kind of role will marco estrada have this season? is he sent back down to work as a starter or does he stay with the big league club as a reliever? whats his future/upside?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I think he'll be in the big league bullpen, although he really does have good enough stuff to start. Given his smallish build, it's rather surprising how well he holds his 90-92 mph velocity, and he can touch 93-94 even into the sixth inning or so. Some organization officials say he has the best changeup in the system (even better than Martis'), and his curveball is solid-average also. That's a pretty nice repertoire, but I think people will see his size and immediately think "reliever". With his ability to throw strikes, hold runners and work quickly, he could have plenty of success in the pen.

 Q:  Adam and Zech from Potomac asks:
What happened to Carr, and Zinecola? I thought they had a shot at being useful bullpen guys in the big leagues?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Both guys have plenty of arm strength, but both continue to struggle with command and consistency. The organization is largely split on which of those two players is the better prospect, and neither wound up making the top 30. I see both as middle relievers at best, and both must improve their command considerably to fill that role in the majors.

 Q:  Al from DC asks:
Do Adrian Alaniz or Will Atwood, a couple of recent college draftees who have done well in the minors, figure into the top 30 list?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Atwood does, Alaniz does not. Atwood has better stuff and is lefthanded. He's got a legitimate three-pitch mix, with a fastball that reaches 90-91 mph, good feel for an average breaking ball and an average changeup. Some Washington officials like him quite a bit—like top 15-20 range—but he settled in the mid-20s on our list.

 Q:  Taylor from Columbus asks:
Please rank in terms of pure hitting ability: Hood, Burgess, Marrero, Ramirez, Norris
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Interesting question. I'll go Ramirez, Marrero, Hood, Norris, Burgess. Quick tangent: I was in San Diego this weekend for the ABCA convention, and I sat in a clinic with hitting guru Don Slaught (the former big leaguer), who broke down film on a number of major league and amateur players side-by-side. The one amateur player he picked out to demonstrate a good swing was Ramirez (at last year's Area Code games). Of course, he didn't seem to realize the player he was highlighting had signed for a $1 million bonus. After seeing a video breakdown of J.P.'s textbook lefthanded swing, it's easy to see why he got that kind of money.

 Q:  Nick from LI asks:
Thanks for the chat! I was wondering if Ross Detwiler will regain the form that made him a top 10 pick in 07 even with the changes he made to his mechanics.
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I believe he will, yes. I think people got the false impression that Detwiler was close to the majors just because they jumped him up there for one outing last September, but the fact is he's always been a guy who was going to need a little time to develop in the minors. I remember working on a Team USA top prospects list when Detwiler was there in 2006, and people told me he had the highest upside on the staff after David Price, but he was far from a finished product. He's never been a fast-track guy, but he's a guy with a very high ceiling—just have a little patience with him.

 Q:  Jeff from Florida asks:
How close did Graham Hicks come to making the Top 10? He seems to be a young arm with a high ceiling from last yr's draft.
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: The Nationals are very excited about Hicks, and so am I. He came in at No. 15 on the list, but I could easily see him jumping into the top five next year if he develops as the Nats hope. One scout I talked to said he was similar to Detwiler out of high school — just a tall, projectable lefthander with a loose arm action who is destined to add velocity. But his secondary stuff and command is ahead of where Detwiler's was at the same stage. Any young pitcher with five profesional innings under his belt has some risk, which is why he's not higher on the list right now, but he's a guy Nats fans should be excited about.

 Q:  Jake from Nationals Park asks:
Is it even possible for crow to sign agian with the Nats? I thought once you were drafted you couldnt be re-drafted as part of the compensation pick agreement.(or something like that)
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: It would be possible if Crow signed a form early in the season granting his consent, according to draft guru Jim Callis. Something tells me that probably won't happen...

 Q:  Dan from Fairfield, CA asks:
If the 2009 draft were held today, would Strasburg be #1 on this list?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Absolutely.

 Q:  Danny from Washington D.C asks:
Why is it that nobody is talking about Danny Espinosa, or Graham Hicks? Did the Nats just blow those picks, or are they just very underrated?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I already talked about Hicks. Espinosa is undervalued, I think. There is certainly some question about his bat long-term, but I think he can be a solid .270-type hitter who just makes a team better because of all the little things he brings to the table. He's the kind of player who makes everyone around him better and gets the most out of his tools. Which isn't to say he is without tools — he's an excellent if unorthodox defender with a very strong arm, and he's a switch-hitter with bat speed. He's the top shortstop in their system, for my money.

 Q:  Timothy from D.C asks:
After seeing esmailyn gonzalez go off last year, what is your take on the price tag the Nats paid for him?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Still way too high. Heck, even if he becomes a major league All-Star, the price was way too high, because no other team was even close in the bidding. If you could have gotten the same player for half the price, it's a bad contract. And while I now think Smiley has a chance to be a quality big league second baseman in the Jose Vidro mold, let's not get ahead of ourselves after a good year in Rookie ball. He's by no means a sure thing.

 Q:  Karl from MD asks:
Please settle a recent argument amongst friends by comparing the Nationals/Orioles farm systems. Thanks!
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Orioles system is much better. In fact, there aren't many systems in baseball with a top four as good as Wieters-Tillman-Matusz-Arrieta. That alone gives Baltimore the edge, though I suppose you could make a case that Washington's system has just as much depth, if not more. I don't know if anyone on our staff would make that argument, though.

 Q:  Ted from Washington, DC asks:
Bernadina struggled at the major league level last season. Do you think he has the bat to hit at that level? Where does BA rate him going into the 2009 season?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I don't think he's got the bat to be a big league regular, but his speed, defense and athleticism will make him a nice extra outfielder. He came in toward the back of the top 20.

 Q:  Rod from Seattle asks:
Did Clint Everts even make the top 30? Or, have injuries effectively ended his career?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: Ah, the annual Clint Everts question. He did not make the top 30, but he actually did show some signs of getting back on track a bit this year. He's definitely a middle relief type, not the top-of-the-rotation starter we once saw in him, but his fastball velocity climbed back to the high 80s to low 90s range this year, and his curveball regained some of its power, touching 80. It's still not consistent, but at the least he prolonged his career a bit longer. Maybe he'll have a Mike Hinckley-like bounce and rocket through the system as a reliever in 2009.

 Q:  Bob from Tampa asks:
Aaron, thanks for the chat. Who are some of the sleepers we should be keeping an eye on? Any DSL/VSL players on the radar?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: The Nationals did very little in Latin America last year, but there are a few older Latin guys with arm strength worth keeping an eye on. The most intriguing is Juan Jaime, who showed an explosive 92-96 mph fastball and a power slider before being shut down in late July. But of course he's 21 and has yet to get past Rookie ball. Another is Jose Pinales, who flashes a plus fastball up to 94 and a plus curveball, but he's now 23 and has yet to reach full-season ball. He also struggles to repeat his delivery and command the zone. Johan Figuereo is a converted guy who has reached 94, while Carlos Peralta has reached 93 and flashed a promising slider. Marcos Frias is a little younger — he just turned 20 in December — and has touched 94 in the past while also showing the ability to spin a breaking ball. All of those guys are long shots, but maybe the Nats will catch lightning in a bottle with one of them.

Aaron Fitt: I'm just about out of time — let me try to grab one or two more questions.

 Q:  Pierre from Montreal asks:
How is the decision to not meet 2006 2nd rounder Sean Black's demands looking now? Black had a bad freshman year but rebounded with a solid sophmore year for Seton Hall and looks primed to have a big junior year. Do the Nationals wish they had met his original price?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I'm reserving judgment on Black. He was better last year, but he was still far from dominant and is far from a sure thing to reach the majors. I don't think the Nats are really kicking themselves over that one.

 Q:  Karl of Delaware from Georgetown, Delaware asks:
Comment on former Brave first round pick Luis Atilano - has he finally gotten over the injuries that plagued him?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: I frankly still have my reservations about the guy, but the Nats really seem to like him, and he landed toward the back of the top 30. They really like his changeup, his heavy fastball and a curveball that has a chance to be average. Of course, "heavy" is an important word with Atilano — his weight blew up during his down time, and he must make sure he keeps himself in shape. I see him as a reliever in the majors, though some Nats people like him as a starter.

 Q:  Al from DC asks:
Hicks, Higley, Hood, Atwood, Ramirez, Nieto - the Nats didn't sign Crow but seems like they had a pretty good draft overall. Hope for the Nats fans?
 A: 

Aaron Fitt: There is indeed reason for hope — that's a pretty good group of players. If you put Crow at the front of it, you might be looking at a top-five draft, and certainly at least top 10. As it is, they got good value in the later rounds with some of the players you mentioned, and they just might have salvaged that draft despite bungling the top pick pretty badly. Of course, all of that might be forgotten when Stephen Strasburg is blowing away big league hitters at Nationals Park in 2010...

Aaron Fitt: That's it for today. Thanks to everyone for the great questions — I enjoyed it, as always. Have a great 2009!