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Top Ten Prospects: Washington Nationals
Complete Index of Top 10s

By Aaron Fitt
November 16, 2005

Chat Wrap: 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 field.

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.

1. RYAN ZIMMERMAN, 3b      Age: 21 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 220 B-T: R-R
Drafted: 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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Savannah (Lo A) .471 .471 1.059 17 5 8 2 1 2 6 0 3 0 1
Harrisburg (AA) .326 .371 .528 233 40 76 20 0 9 32 15 34 1 5
Washington .397 .419 .569 58 6 23 10 0 0 6 3 12 0 0

2. COLLIN BALESTER, rhp        Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt.: 190
Drafted: 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.


The Future:
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.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Savannah (Lo A) 8 6 3.67 24 23 1 0 125 105 11 42 95 .222

3. CLINT EVERTS, rhp        Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 180
Drafted: 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 June.

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.


The Future:
With two plus-plus offspeed pitches, Everts can still be a frontline starter if his velocity returns. He’ll start 2006 at Potomac.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
GCL Nationals (R) 0 1 3.38 7 7 0 0 16 18 0 8 15 .269
Vermont (SS) 0 1 3.79 8 1 0 0 19 21 0 12 21 .266

4. IAN DESMOND, ss        Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt.: 185
Drafted: Drafted: HS—Sarasota, Fla., 2004 (3rd round)  Signed by: Russ Bove

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 Potomac.

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 inside fastballs.


The Future:
Desmond should start 2006 back in high Class A. His bat remains uncertain, yet the Nats see him as their shortstop of the future.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Savannah (Lo A) .247 .291 .334 296 37 73 10 2 4 23 13 60 20 6
Potomac (Hi A) .256 .325 .384 219 37 56 13 3 3 15 21 53 13 6

5. ARMANDO GALARRAGA, rhp       Age: 24 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-4 Wt.: 170
Signed: Venezuela, 2000   Signed by: Fred Ferreira

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.


The Future:
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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Potomac (Hi A) 3 4 2.48 14 14 0 0 80 69 7 23 79 .228
Harrisburg (AA) 3 4 5.19 13 13 1 0 76 80 10 21 58 .275

6. KORY CASTO, 3b        Age: 24 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 200
Drafted: 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.

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.


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) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Potomac (Hi A) .290 .394 .510 500 86 145 36 4 22 90 84 98 6 3

7. MIKE HINCKLEY, lhp       Age: 23 B-T: R-L Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 170
Drafted: 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 get married.

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.


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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Potomac (Hi A) 3 9 4.93 22 21 1 0 128 151 10 51 80 .293

8. BILL BRAY, lhp      Age: 22 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-3 Wt.: 215
Drafted: William & Mary, 2004 (1st round)   Signed by: Alex Smith

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.

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.


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 set-up man.

2005 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Potomac (Hi A) 1 0 2.13 8 0 0 3 13 8 1 3 18 .170
Harrisburg (AA) 1 0 6.35 3 0 0 1 6 10 1 1 6 .385
New Orleans (AAA) 1 4 5.06 23 0 0 2 21 23 3 9 25 .271

9. LARRY BROADWAY, 1b       Age: 25 B-T: L-L Ht: 6-4 Wt.: 230
Drafted: 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.

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.


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.

2005 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
New Orleans (AAA) .193 .281 .246 57 4 11 3 0 0 5 7 17 2 0
GCL Nationals (R) .429 .543 .714 28 3 12 5 0 1 4 7 3 0 0
Harrisburg (AA) .269 .329 .538 186 29 50 14 0 12 24 17 37 0 0

10. DARYL THOMPSON , rhp       Age: 20 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt.: 170
Signed: 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.

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 great deal.


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) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Savannah (Lo A) 2 3 3.35 11 11 0 0 54 46 3 24 48 .232

Photo Credits:
Everts: Rich Abel
Casto: Mike Janes
Zimmerman: Bill Mitchell
Bray, Broadway, Hinckley: Steve Moore
Desmond, Galarraga: Tom Priddy
Thompson: Sports On Film

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