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, 2008.

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It's a measure of just how low expectations were for the Nationals in 2007 that they won 73 games and finished 16 games out of first place, yet Manny Acta garnered manager-of-the-year consideration for getting his team to overachieve in his first year at the helm. Washington, in its first full season with the Lerner family installed as owners and Stan Kasten as club president, embraced a youth movement with an eye at fielding a competitive, exciting team when their new Nationals Park opens in 2008.

Ryan Zimmerman turned in his second straight solid season, giving the Nationals confidence that they have a cornerstone player to build a franchise around. Other young players made positive impressions in varying amounts of big league exposure, as rookie Matt Chico led the beleaguered pitching staff in starts (31) and innings (167), Jason Bergmann made a successful conversion from the bullpen to the rotation, and rookies Shawn Hill and John Lannan also showed promise as starters. Nationals fans also got a glimpse of their potential center fielder of the future when Justin Maxwell jumped from high Class A to the majors for a 15-game cameo and swatted a grand slam in his third at-bat.

Freewheeling general manager Jim Bowden made just one significant trade in 2007, acquiring powerful but raw outfielder Wily Mo Pena from the Red Sox. Instead of bolstering the system through trades as it did in 2006, Washington focused on building through the draft, where it had five picks in the first two rounds. The Nationals spent $7.9 million on the draft, the fifth-highest figure in baseball.

The first four players they drafted—lefthanders Ross Detwiler (first round) and Josh Smoker (supplemental first), outfielder Michael Burgess (supplemental first) and righthander Jordan Zimmermann (second)—rank among the top 10 prospects in the system. So does lefthander Jack McGeary—who received a $1.8 million bonus, a record for a sixth-round pick, plus the money and permission from Washington to attend classes at Stanford from September through May for up to three years. Outfielder Jake Smolinski (second round) just missed the Top 10.

The aggressive approach to the draft paid immediate dividends, as Washington's system is already far deeper and flush with more high-impact talent than it had a year ago, when it ranked as the worst system in baseball. Assistant general manager of baseball operations Mike Rizzo and scouting director Dana Brown have co-existed very well, and there are no signs of a power struggle that some feared when Rizzo joined the organization in mid-2006 after a successful run as the Diamondbacks' scouting director.

The Nationals may not be blessed with many prospects in the upper levels of their organization, but their player-development system has made strides under farm director Bobby Williams and minor league pitching coordinator Spin Williams. Washington has instituted organization-wide philosophies, alleviating the too-many-cooks syndrome that hampered its prospects in the past. The club held instructional league for the first time since the franchise moved to Washington, giving young players a chance to build on lessons from the season and focus on developing specific skills.

1.  Chris Marrero, of/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: As a junior at Monsignor Pace High in Opa Locka, Fla., Marrero established himself as the best high school position prospect for the 2006 draft. But a hamstring injury during his senior year caused Marrero to overcompensate by opening up his front hip and pulling off the ball, making his swing look deceptively long and causing him to wave over the top of breaking balls. He wasn't even the best player on his state championship team, as that distinction fell to Adrian Cardenas, who's now starring in the Phillies system. Nationals scouts surmised that Marrero would return to form if they could fix his stride, and he reinforced their belief that his senior struggles were a fluke by putting on a monstrous pre-draft power display in a workout at RFK Stadium. Washington stole him with the 15th overall pick and signed him for $1.625 million. After the draft, he worked on the mechanical adjustments and began to make progress before viral meningitis cut short his debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He was completely healthy by the spring and began his first full professional season at low Class A Hagerstown, where his power exploded with 11 homers in May. After a promotion to high Class A Potomac, Marrero tired down the stretch but rallied in the final two weeks after choking up a bit on the bat.

Strengths: Marrero's best tool is his well above-average power to all fields. He has a quiet, line-drive stroke, and he's strong enough to hit the ball over the fence from foul pole to foul pole. His swing has tremendous leverage, and his balance and bat speed allow him to square up balls on the barrel consistently. His approach was very mature for a 19-year-old in high Class A, not only because of his willingness to use the opposite field but also because of his ability to make adjustments. He drew more walks and chased fewer pitches in his time at Potomac. Marrero also has an above-average arm. His work ethic receives rave reviews from Nationals personnel.

Weaknesses: Despite his arm strength, Marrero isn't a good outfielder, thanks largely to his below-average speed. Washington decided to move him to first base in instructional league. He showed good aptitude for the position, with sufficient lateral range, quick reactions and decent hands. He still needs to get comfortable at first base and work on receiving throws from infielders and picking balls in the dirt. Offensively, Marrero has all the tools but requires more at-bats to learn how to hit advanced pitching

The Future: Marrero has a chance to start 2008 as a 19-year-old at Double-A Harrisburg, though he could return to Potomac and move up quickly. He's not far from big league ready as a hitter, and how fast he learns first base could determine how soon he reaches Washington. That could happen as early as the second half of 2008, and by 2009 he figures to be a fixture in the middle of the big league lineup. His massive power gives him a chance to be a star.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Hagerstown (LoA)
.293 .337 .545 222 31 65 14 0 14 53 14 39 0
Potomac (HiA)
.295 .338 .431 255 40 66 11 3 9 35 35 63 0
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 DetwillerBackground: After a star turn with Team USA in 2006, Detwiler showed dominant stuff but was plagued by poor run support as a junior at Missouri State, going 4-5, 2.22 with 110 strikeouts and 38 walks in 89 innings. The Nationals made him the highest-drafted player in school history, taking him sixth overall and giving him a $2.15 million bonus. He made a Washington cameo in just his 10th professional appearance, making him the first 2006 draftee to reach the majors.

Strengths: Detwiler's arm is electric. His four-seam fastball sits at 90-93 mph and touches 95-96, and his two-seamer has darting armside run. His hard-breaking spike curveball is a second plus offering that can reach 83 mph. His high-70s changeup can be a third plus pitch at times, with very good arm speed and late fade.

Weaknesses: His frame always will be wiry, but Detwiler needs to add strength to endure a major league season. He throws strikes but is still learning to command the zone with his fastball and refine his changeup. He throws across his body somewhat despite easy arm action and a mostly sound delivery.

The Future: With a chance for three above-average pitches, Detwiler has a chance to be a legitimate ace. He figures to start 2008 in Double-A but could force his way to the big leagues for good by the second half.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
GCL Nationals (R)
0 0 2.25 4 4 0 0 12 11 1 3 15 .234
Potomac (HiA)
2 2 4.22
5 4 0 0 21 27 1 9 13 .310
Washington (MLB)
0 0 0.00 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
1 .000
3.  Collin Balester, rhp   Born: June 6, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 190
 Drafted: HS—Huntington Bach, Calif., 2004 (4th round)Signed by: Tony Arango
Collin BalesterBackground: Balester has moved quickly through the system since the Nationals drafted the free-spirited former surfer, and once again he was young for his level in 2007. He pitched well enough in Double-A to warrant a second-half promotion to Triple-A Columbus and held his own without dominating.

Strengths: The long-limbed Balester is growing into his frame, and he maintained 90-93 mph fastball velocity, touching 94 regularly and reaching 96 at the Futures Game. His curveball is often an above-average pitch at 77-81 with hard downward break.

Weaknesses: Balester excels at pitching to contact, but he needs to get better at putting hitters away, particularly with his swing-and-miss curveball. He tends to throw his changeup too hard at 85-87 mph, and he's better off using it in the low 80s to get more sink and separation from his fastball. He needs to command his fastball down in the strike zone more consistently.

The Future: A potential middle-of-the-rotation starter with a ceiling as a No. 2, Balester isn't far from breaking into the majors. Barring a standout spring, he'll open 2008 back in Triple-A, but he could be in Washington by midseason.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Harrisburg (AA)
2 7 3.74 17 17 0 0 99 103 9 25 77 .268
Columbus (AAA)
2 3 4.18 10 10 0 0 52 49 3 23 40 .255
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: Like Chris Marrero a year earlier, Burgess established himself as one of the draft's premier power hitters as a junior, batting .512 with 12 homers at Hillsborough High and excelling with wood over the summer. Also like Marrero, he slumped as a senior. Inconsistent contact and a perceived lack of focus dropped him to the supplemental first round, but after signing for $630,000 he led the Gulf Coast League in on-base and slugging percentage.

Strengths: With a strong, compact frame, a short stroke and a lightning-quick bat, Burgess has well above-average raw power, mostly to right field. He has good plate discipline and isn't afraid to use the opposite field on occasion. He's an average defender in right field with a plus arm.

Weaknesses: Burgess channels controlled aggression into every at-bat, but he can fall into bad habits mechanically, lengthening his stroke and taking monster hacks. Sometimes he gets out of sync, getting his front foot down too early and then jerking his swing a bit. Though not a base-clogger, he's a below-average runner who'll need to watch his weight to stay in the outfield.

The Future: In time, Burgess could be a 40-homer man in the big leagues. His next step is to make adjustments against more advanced pitching in low Class A.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
GCL Nationals (R)
.336 .442 .617 128 22 43 6 3 8 32 25 37 1
Vermont (SS) .286 .383 .457 70
10 20 1 1 3 10 10 23 1
5.  Jack McGeary, lhp   Born: March 19, 1989B-T: L-LHt: 6-3Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS—West Roxbury, Mass., 2007 (6th round)Signed by: Mike Alberts
Jack McGearyBackground: McGeary entered last spring as a potential first-round pick before separating his non-throwing shoulder playing basketball. He played through the discomfort but lost some velocity on his fastball. The Nationals bought him out of a commitment to Stanford with a $1.8 million bonus, a record for the sixth round, and will allow him to be a full-time student for the next three years.

Strengths: McGeary draws comparisons to Andy Pettitte for his size, stuff and smooth, effortless arm action. His power curveball is the best in the system, a tight mid-70s hammer that he can throw for strikes or get hitters to chase out of the zone. His fastball sits in the 87-90 mph range, and he should add a bit of velocity as he matures. He's an exceptional athlete with a commanding mound presence.

Weaknesses: The separated right shoulder caused McGeary to get into some bad habits on his front side and led his command to lapse at times in the spring, but he has shown impeccable command in the past. He flashes an average changeup but hasn't had to use it much in high school, so it needs some development.

The Future: Though he's not overpowering, McGeary is very polished and should move quickly through the system, starting with a likely promotion to low Class A in 2008. He could be a No. 2 or 3 starter down the road.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Vermont (SS)
0 1 13.50 2 1 0 0 3 3 0 5 4 .273
6.  Josh Smoker, lhp   Born: Nov. 26, 1988B-T: L-LHt: 6-2Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS—Calhoun, Ga., 2007 (1st round supplemental)Signed by: Eric Robinson
Josh SmokerBackground: The Braves coveted Smoker and he wanted to play for his home-state team, but the Nationals ruined those plans by taking him with the first pick of the supplemental first round, two choices ahead of Atlanta. Though his velocity dipped at the end of the spring, which is why he lasted until the 31st pick, Washington gave him a slightly above-slot $1 million bonus.

Strengths: Smoker's lively fastball can sit in the low 90s and has touched 94 in the past, and he can run it in on righthanders. He flashes a plus curveball in the high 70s with good depth and a promising changeup. He has a clean delivery and a consistent release point that should translate into plus command. He's a fiery, intense competitor.

Weaknesses: His splitter was his go-to pitch in high school, when he would use as many as six different offerings, but the Nationals want Smoker to focus on his fastball, curveball and changeup. He needs to refine his fastball command and become more consistent with his offspeed pitches.

The Future: With the potential for a plus fastball and curve, Smoker draws comparisons to Mark Langston. He should be ready to tackle low Class A in 2008 and could move quickly for a prep product.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Dunedin (Hi A) 0 0 4.50 2 2 0
0 4
2 0 3 5 .167
7.  Jordan Zimmerman, rhp   Born: May 23, 1986B-T: R-RHt: 6-2Wt: 200
 Drafted: Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 2007 (2nd round)Signed by: Steve Arnieri
Jordan ZimmermanBackground: After bursting onto the prospect landscape with a dominant 2006 summer in the Northwoods League, Zimmermann took a line drive off his jaw while throwing batting practice in an offseason workout. That injury, combined with bad weather in Wisconsin and missed time when he had his wisdom teeth pulled, affected his spring and caused him to drop to the second round. The Nationals, who signed him for $495,000, think he could have been a top-10 pick had he pitched at a higher-profile program.

Strengths: Zimmermann's heavy, boring 90-94 fastball is an above-average pitch. He entered pro ball with a pair of quality breaking balls, but the Nats had him shelve his slider for now and focus on his plus downer curveball. He has a sturdy frame, strong legs and a smooth three-quarters delivery. He was MVP of the 2007 Division III College World Series after starring as a two-way player.

Weaknesses: Though Zimmermann can command his fastball to both sides of the plate, he sometimes leaves the pitch up in the zone. His secondary stuff needs to get more consistent, particularly his changeup. An intense competitor, he must avoid letting his perfectionist tendencies get the best of him.

The Future: Zimmermann should skip a level and jump to high Class A to start 2008. He could be a mid-rotation starter by 2009.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Auburn (SS) 5 2 2.38 13 11 0 0 53 45 2 18 71 .228
8.  Glenn Gibson, lhp   Born: Sept. 21, 1987B-T: L-LHt: 6-4Wt: 195
 Drafted: HS—Center Moriches, N.Y., 2006 (4th round)Signed by: Guy Mader
Glenn GibsonBackground: The son of former major league lefthander Paul Gibson, Glenn showed off his superior feel for pitching at short-season Vermont. He might have been the New-York Penn League's best pitcher until his final two starts, when he tried to pitch while sick and saw his ERA balloon from 1.74 to 3.10. It was later discovered he had mononucleosis, causing him to drop about 20 pounds and reversing his solid progress in the weight room.

Strengths: Gibson's savvy makes his stuff play up. He pores over hitting and pitching charts before every start so he can exploit weaknesses, and he mixes speeds and locations very well. He can throw his plus changeup in any count for strikes, his slow downer curveball can be above-average at times and his fastball can touch 91 mph and has late movement.

Weaknesses: Gibson's fastball sits in the high 80s and isn't overpowering, which limits his upside and margin for error. He still needs to add strength to his frame, particularly his lower half, to improve his durability and velocity.

The Future: Gibson is ready for a full-season league and should begin 2008 in low Class A. He looks like a safe bet to reach the big leagues as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Vermont (SS)
4 3 3.10 12 12 0 0 58 47 3 15 58 .223
9. Justin Maxwell, of   Born: Nov. 5, 1983B-T: R-RHt: 6-5Wt: 225
 Drafted: Maryland, 2005 (4th round)Signed by: Alex Smith
Justin MaxwellBackground: After injuries plagued his college career and first full pro season in 2006, Maxwell stayed mostly healthy in 2007 and translated his immense talent into the only 25-double, 25-homer, 25-steal performance in the minors. After Potomac's season ended, he got a taste of the big leagues and his first hit was a grand slam in his third at-bat.

Strengths: The best athlete in the system, Maxwell finally started to tap into his above-average raw power in 2007, showing the ability to drive the ball out of the park to all fields. He's an above-average runner who can get good jumps on the basepaths and track down balls in the outfield gaps.

Weaknesses: Maxwell shortened his swing considerably over the past year, but doesn't figure to hit for a high average in the majors. He needs to improve his pitch selection and lay off breaking balls in the dirt. He's a solid-average center fielder, but his arm is fringe-average. He strengthened it throwing footballs last winter.

The Future: Maxwell garners comparisons to Mike Cameron for his speed/power mix and inability to hit for average. He could push for a job in Washington's outfield sometime in 2008, but would benefit from a full year at Double-A.
2007 Club (Class) AVG OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB
Hagerstown (LoA)
.301 .389 .579 209 51 63 12 2 14 40 26 57 14
Potomac (HiA)
.263 .338
.491 228
35 60 13 0 13 43 24 65 21
Washington (MLB)
.269 .296
.500 26
5 7 0 0 2 5 1 8 0
10.  Colton Willems, rhp   Born: July 30, 1988B-T: R-RHt: 6-3Wt: 175
 Signed: HS—Fort Pierce, Fla., 2006 (1st round)Signed by: Tony Arango
Colten WillemsBackground: After a sore elbow limited him to 16 innings in his 2006 pro debut, Willems looked strong against older competition in the New York-Penn League. Vermont manager Darnell Coles said Willems grew about two inches over the summer, and he pitches from an imposing downhill plane.

Strengths: Willems worked at 87-93 mph and touched 94-95 this summer, and he ran his fastball up to 97 mph at times in high school. He commands his heater very well down in the zone, and he flashes a promising curveball and changeup. Like Jordan Zimmermann, he has shelved the slider he carried into pro ball. Willems matured quite a bit with Vermont, and his demeanor on the mound never changes no matter the situation.

Weaknesses: Shaky command of his secondary pitches means Willems works in a lot of unfavorable counts and always seems to be running into jams. He made some progress with his curveball and changeup early in the summer but leveled out in the second half. His 1.84 ERA at Vermont is misleading because 13 of the 25 runs he allowed were unearned.

The Future: With an athletic frame, a live arm and a loose, easy delivery, Willems has one of the highest ceilings in the system, but he's still very much a work in progress. He should advance to low Class A in 2008.
2007 Club (Class) W L ERA G GS CG SV IP H HR BB SO AVG
Vermont (SS)
3 2 1.84 12 12 0 0 58 55 2 26 31 .251

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Photo Credits:
Diamond Images (Marrero)
Rodger Wood (Detwiler, Zimmerman)
Ed Wolfstein (Burgess, McGeary, Smoker, Gibson, Maxwell)
Michael Ponzini (Balester)
Mike Janes (Willems)