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, 2008.

Moderator: Aaron Fitt will chat about the Nationals farm system at 2:30 p.m. ET.

 Q:  Gary from NJ asks:
When will we see Burgess Marrero or Detwiler make thier debuts? Does Detwiler have the stuff to become a ace?

Aaron Fitt: Hi everyone, and welcome to the Nats chat. It's a busy day here at BA as we complete the final production phase of our 2008 Almanac, but I'll chat as long as I can.

Aaron Fitt: I really wouldn't be surprised if Marrero and Detwiler both force their way into the Nats' big league plans sometime in 2008. I would expect both to start the year in Double-A, but Detwiler's stuff is electric and he could be a major difference-maker in the rotation very quickly. Lefthanders who reach 96 mph and have nasty curveballs and quality sliders don't grow on trees, so yes, I think he's got a chance to be a legit ace if he can refine his command just a bit and add a little strength to boost his durability. As for Marrero, his bat is very advanced -- this guy isn't just a masher, he's got a very mature approach, and if he continues to make quick adjustments at first base, I think he could be in the majors in the second half.

 Q:  MJ from Middle School Computer lab... asks:
What's the outlook on Colton Willems' future? With a 97-mph fastball, his K's were way down this season, albeit a short one. Very nice peripheral stats, but what kind of pitcher will he become do you think? Where's his destination in '08? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: Willems has one of the highest upsides in the system, but he needs to refine his secondary stuff. I love the arm and the frame, but he needs to do a better job commanding the zone, though his good fastball command down in the zone is encouraging. He tended to find himself dancing in and out of trouble a lot at Vermont -- remember, he's a very young pitcher, and he could be a very good one, but he's a ways off yet. He figures to move up to Hagerstown in 08.

 Q:  Thom from Eugene, OR asks:
Devin Perrin has always intrigued me and I know he is probably not a top 30 prospect. Can he make a splash this year now that he is healthy? Does he intrigue the NationalsYourself enough to even post this question?

Aaron Fitt: Devin Perrin has always intrigued me, too, and he's always intrigued Nats scouting director Dana Brown quite a bit. He's no longer top 30-worthy thanks to his injuries, but he's a big guy who has reached the mid-90s in the past and flashed a promising curveball. The clock is ticking, though -- he'll be 27 in May.

 Q:  Kevin Costello from Fairfax VA asks:
Some of the pitchers in the Nats' top 10 seem like they might crack the major league roster later this year. Should the Nationals count on Jim Bowden's ability to mine the scrap heap one more year until they arrive in the summer, and trust Mike Rizzo's draft skills? Alternatively, should they spend for a free agent or two to allow the prospects an additional year to mature, even if it costs a supplemental pick or two?

Aaron Fitt: I do think guys like Balester and Detwiler are close, and even Zimmermann might shoot through the system next year, but the Nats must be careful not to rush their promising young lefthanders and stunt their development. With the Nats moving into the new ballpark in 2008, I expect Bowden to go after a free agent pitcher or two so the Nats are at least competitive, but it's not a great market, so it would be imprudent to break the bank on a middling free agent with so much promising talent now in the pipeline.

 Q:  Felix from San Juan asks:
Do you think Casto has a chance on becoming a regular 3b in the majors?

Aaron Fitt: At this point I would find that pretty unlikely. He seems to profile best as a decent bat off the bench who can fill in at the corners.

 Q:  Dave from Alexandria asks:
Aaron - Thanks for the chat. Six of the 2006 top 10 were new to the org while half of the Nationals 2007 top 10 are new to the org, is such fluidity just a function of how bad they were?

Aaron Fitt: It's a combination of things. First, if you go back to the top 10 two years ago, Ryan Zimmerman has graduated to the majors, and the Nats used Bill Bray, Daryl Thompson and Armando Galarraga in trades, so at least there was some value there. Last year, Matt Chico graduated to the majors, and Balester, Marrero and Gibson have returned to the top 10, so again you've got four useful players in the 10. But there have been some player development setbacks -- guys like Clint Everts, Mike Hinckley, Larry Broadway and to a lesser extent Casto and Zech Zinicola have been disappointments, so they have dropped in the rankings. Then there is the influx in new talent, which has pushed guys like Esmailyn Gonzalez, Stephen King and Ian Desmond out of the top 10. That's more a testament to the high-quality talent that has entered the system.

 Q:  John from Arlington asks:
What happened to Garrett Mock? Has the prospect bus passed him by? Is he in the top 20?

Aaron Fitt: Rough year while he recovered from a knee injury, but he's still a prospect, and he's having a strong AFL season. He's shown a 89-94 mph fastball and pair of good breaking pitches this fall, and as long as he doesn't out-think himself too much, he could push for a rotation spot in 2008. He came in around No. 20.

 Q:  Chuck from Chevy Chase, MD asks:
Aaron, How disappointing was Esmailyn Gonzalez's year in your opinion and do you think he will eventually take over at SS over Ian Desmond ? Please compare the two. Thank you,

Aaron Fitt: Statistically, I wasn't disappointed in Esmailyn's year as a 17-year-old in the GCL. But he dropped considerably on these rankings because serious doubts have emerged about his ability to stick at shortstop long-term. I like Gonzalez and think he could be a useful big leaguer some day, but the fact is the Nationals probably overpaid for him. He's a below-average runner with fringy range and a fringy arm for shortstop -- I see him as a second baseman in the Jose Vidro mold, though his bat is certainly no sure thing. I'm definitely not burying Gonzalez, but he's not the star everyday shortstop that the Nationals tried to sell everyone on after giving him that $1.4 million bonus last year.

 Q:  Brian from Alexandria asks:
What are your thoughts about Shairon Martis? He seemed to struggle some early in the Carolina League but appeared to really hit full stride by the end of the season? Is he another back of the rotation type guy or is there more upside?

Aaron Fitt: I like Martis and think he has a good chance to reach the majors, but I think you hit it on the head -- he's probably a back of the rotation type of guy, not a whole lot more upside there. He's 89-91 with an excellent changeup and a pair of developing breaking balls, and he does a good job getting ground balls and commanding the zone, but he's not overpowering.

 Q:  Brian from Rosslyn asks:
While the Nationals have drafted well over the last couple of years, what have you heard across the industry about their player development efforts? Do they have the right people in the right positions to develop these guys?

Aaron Fitt: I think player development has been an issue for the franchise in the past -- there was a glaring lack of cohesive philosophies across the system, and players stumbled because they received too much conflicting advice from too many people. But I really like the people Washington has in there now. Bobby Williams is doing a great job as farm director, and Spin Williams is an incredibly respected minor league pitching guru. There is plenty of reason for optimism on the player development side now.

 Q:  Robert from Flower Mound, TX asks:
BA ranked the Nationals draft #1 and the Rangers draft #2. I believe you cover both teams...how did you see it?

Aaron Fitt: I had no input on the draft rankings, but yes, I cover both organizations, and I agree that both drafted very well. Washington made the right choice with Detwiler, got incredible value with Smoker, Burgess, Zimmermann, McGeary and P.J. Dean, and also did well with Smolinski, Norris, Meyers and Alaniz, among others. It was a balanced draft, and the Nats were rewarded for their aggressiveness on guys like Smoker and McGeary. As for the Rangers, we'll get to them another time, but I'm a big fan of Main, Borbon and Tommy Hunter, and I think Andrew Laughter and Mitch Moreland were excellent late-round finds.

 Q:  Reese from G-Town asks:
Last year the Nationals were dead last 30 in farm systems. At a quick glance this could be a Top 10 system this year (maybe 9 or 10). Even though the upper level talent is lacking, there is a lot to like. Have you seen a quicker turnaround in systems from one year to the next?

Aaron Fitt: Really an amazing turnaround, and I think the Nationals do have a chance to be in the top 10 this year, and top 15 for sure. The lack of high-impact talent in the upper levels of the system (excluding Balester and perhaps Justin Maxwell) is a significant weakness, but I don't know if any system in baseball can match Washington for quality lefthanded pitching.

 Q:  Wookie from Woodbridge, VA asks:
Where would you place the 5 guys who fell out of the TOP 10 from last year, Kory Casto @ 4, Smiley Gonzalez @ 5, Zech Zinicola @ 6, Stephen King @ 9, and Ian Desmond @ 10?

Aaron Fitt: You'll have to buy the Prospect Handbook for the full top 30, but I'll tell you that all of those guys are still in the 30. Zinicola plummeted the most, but the rest of those guys are all in the top 20. Desmond actually ranks the highest out of those guys -- he really turned a corner in the second half, and with his range and arm strength, I think he's still got a chance to be a regular big league shortstop. I don't think Gonzalez or King (who has already moved to 2B) have that chance. Obviously the bat remains a question mark with Desmond, but remember he just turned 22, and if he had gone to college he would have just completed his pro debut. Now that he's back on a smarter developmental schedule after that ill-fated rush job to Harrisburg last year, I think he could take off in 2008.

 Q:  JP Schwartzanegger from Who Is Your Daddy?!, CA asks:
I found it interesting that you gave the edge in power to Marrero over Maxwell. How would you rank both of their power on the 20-80 scale?

Aaron Fitt: Marrero's probably a true 70, and Maxwell's more in the 55-60 range.

 Q:  ScottAZ from Phx, AZ asks:
With Burgess' seemingly advanced approach at the plate, can we expect an advanced ETA? The end of 09?

Aaron Fitt: Burgess does a good job waiting for a pitch to drive and occasionally using the other field, but there are some other aspects of his approach that are not as advanced. He does get out of sync at times and falls into taking huge hacks, and the Nationals would like to see him take a bit better control of his swing. There's some work to do, and I think 2010 is probably the earliest you'll see Burgess in the majors.

 Q:  Warren from Texas asks:
How close was Fruto to making the list? Does he profile as a starter or will he have to go to the pen in MLB? Any sleepers in the Nationals system that could impact MLB? thanks for the chat!

Aaron Fitt: Fruto's now in the Diamondbacks system -- he was sent there in exchange for Chris Carter, who was peddled to Boston for Wily Mo Pena. As for guys who could make an MLB impact in 2008, I would suggest John Lannan, Garrett Mock and perhaps Adam Carr, who's mid-90s fastball and power slider could ticket him for the big league bullpen by midseason. Justin Jones is another sleeper -- the lefthander put himself back on the prospect map this year, and the Nats might be tempted to push him and see what he can do.

 Q:  Wookie from Woodbridge, VA asks:
What's your opinion of John Lannan,Shairon Martis, and Adam Carr? How close were they to making this list?

Aaron Fitt: Lannan was the toughest omission -- he came in at No. 11, simply because he does not have the upside that the players in front of him have. I do think he can be a serviceable No. 5 starter next year and beyond, and I just addressed Carr, who came in at 13. Martis was also in the top 20.

 Q:  Billy from Georgia asks:
Where will the Nationals plan to use Smolinski 3B or OF? Do you see him cracking a full season line-up next spring?

Aaron Fitt: They're going to keep him in the outfield for now, which does decrease his value a bit, particularly since he'll probably be tied to left field. But his bat is advanced and very intriguing, and I would expect him to start in Hagerstown next year.

 Q:  ScottAZ from Phx, AZ asks:
What are the chances of Maxwell breaking camp as the CFer? Its not like Nook Logan or Brendan Watson will stand in his way if he has a strong spring. Or will they fill CF with a stop gap (Lofton type) and prepare Maxwell for 09?

Aaron Fitt: I really wouldn't be surprised if Jim Bowden goes after a big-ticket free agent in center field -- I heard a rumor today that hey have some interest in Andruw Jones. If that doesn't happen, Maxwell will be given a very long look in spring training, but I really don't think his bat is big league-ready yet. A Lofton type stopgap might be the best option if they truly believe Maxwell is their center fielder of the future. I think his tools are outstanding, but I'm still not completely sold on the bat...

 Q:  Dana Jacobson from Vermont asks:
What are the things Stephen King has to work on? Has he shown progress in does areas during instructs?

Aaron Fitt: King did not have a standout instructs, as he tweaked his hamstring late in the year and was only going about 75 percent, causing some Nats officials to get on him about not running out ground balls. That's not an issue for him though when healthy, but he does need to get better at making mental adjustments, becoming a more selective hitter and making more consistent contact. I really like his future as an offensive second baseman in the Jeff Kent mold.

 Q:  Jaypers from Springfield, IL asks:
Was Englund anywhere near the list, and what will be his role in the near future?

Aaron Fitt: Englund has a very intriguing tools package and a high upside, but he remains light years away in all phases, particularly at the plate, where he does not make consistent contact. He'll likely head to Vermont in 2008.

 Q:  Duke Denim from LeviStrauss, NY asks:
When is the earliest we can see Detwiler back in RFK, to stay?

Aaron Fitt: The earliest? Well, I guess he could theoretically come out and blow everybody away in the spring and break camp with the Nats, but I think that's quite a longshot. Midseason would be a more realistic timetable if all goes well in the minors in the first half. He's very good, but he's not yet a finished product.

 Q:  Peter Griffin from Quahog, Rhode Island asks:
From what I have seen from Colin Balester, he has a flippin' sweet curveball, yet struggles with his other off-spead offerings. What are his keys to success? What does he need to improve on? Will we see him in the rotation out of spring training?

Aaron Fitt: It seems we've got quite a few celebrity questionners today -- excellent. Yes, Balester's curve is flippin' sweet, but yes, he struggles with the changeup, tending to throw it too hard. If he can refine that a bit and harness his overall command a bit more, he'll be in the big leagues soon -- but I wouldn't expect to see him earn a spot out of spring training.

 Q:  John from DC asks:
Why is Maxwell rated #10 if he is the best athlete in the system? It seems like he has a legit shot to be a 30 hr - 30 steal guy. How much of the #10 ranking is based on his age and why should age matter when the likely reason he is not further along in his development has been the setbacks resulting from non-career-threatening injuries?

Aaron Fitt: There's more to playing baseball than being a terrific athlete-- just ask Ruben Mateo. Maxwell is No. 9 (not 10) not because of age, but because I still have questions about his hit tool. Of course, even if he never hits for average, he can still be a useful big leaguer in the Mike Cameron mold, but just because he hit .269 in 26 big league at-bats doesn't mean he's actually ready to do that in the majors for real. He hit just .263 in 228 at-bats at Potomac.

 Q:  Glenn Quagmire from Quahog, Rhode Island asks:
Complete this sentence - Chris Marrero is the next _____. Who do scouts compare him to? (and please don't say Nick Johnson!)

Aaron Fitt: Pat Burrell. It's that kind of body and swing, but I think he's got a chance to hit for a higher average and more power than Burrell -- Marrero could be a .300 hitter with 40 homers, I believe, rather than a .258 hitter with 30 homers.

 Q:  Al Percolo from Alexandria, VA asks:
Just curious, alphabetically, you'd start with the Braves (or Atlanta) for the NL East. Then, you'd follow with the Marlins (or Florida). How'd we get to the Nats?

Aaron Fitt: We went out of order because of a scheduling conflict.

 Q:  John from Atlanta asks:
What is the status of former Braves' 1st rounder Luis Atilano? Will he be 100% next season?

Aaron Fitt: Interesting sleeper. The Nationals are really excited to see him pitch next year because they really don't know what they've got in him. He came back from Tommy John surgery to pitch one inning before straining his forearm and having to be shut down again.

 Q:  Steve from pomona asks:
Why is McGeary ranked higher then Smoker?

Aaron Fitt: That was a very difficult call, and everyone in the Nats organization has their own opinion how the 2007 draftees stack up. I went with McGeary because he has a better curveball, slightly better feel for pitching, and a slightly bigger frame with a little more upside, though he doesn't have Smoker's present velocity. It's really a toss-up between those two and Jordan Zimmermann, who is a little older and righthanded but has a great combination of power stuff and feel for pitching.

 Q:  Karl of Delaware from Georgetown, Delaware asks:
Adrian Alany was 8-2 in 13 games with a 2.39 era at Vermont. 8 walks and 62 strikeouts! Is this guy as super as his record suggests?

Aaron Fitt: Most college baseball fans are probably familiar with Alaniz, who had a 27-10 career record in three years at Texas. I wasn't at all surprised to see him dominate the New York-Penn League -- with his advanced feel for pitching and command, it would have been disappointing if he didn't dominate. He commands a quality four-pitch mix and has a chance, but he worked in the mid-80s for three years in college, though the Nationals say they've seen him up to 91 this summer. He's going to have to prove himself at every level.

 Q:  Boris Karloff from Germany asks:
Would you rather have Chris Marrero or Brandon Wood? Detwiler or Andrew Miller?

Aaron Fitt: Interesting... I'll go with Marrero and Miller, but neither is a slam dunk.

 Q:  Karl of Delaware from Georgetown, Delaware asks:
#3 Baseball America Nat's prospect Colton Williams did really well in the New York-Penn League last year. Does he skip over low-A Hagerstown to start at high-A Potomac to begin the 2008 season? Might he even start at AA Harrisburg?

Aaron Fitt: Don't be fooled by the numbers -- Willems had a low ERA because 13 of the 25 runs he allowed were unearned. He really did not dominate in Vermont, as his 31-26 K-BB ratio in 58 innings attests, and there is no chance he skips Hagerstown.

 Q:  Luke from Des Moines asks:
Aaron, thanks for the chat. Where did young talents such as Shairon Martis and Esmailyn Gonzalez figure in? What are their ceilings? And since you're the college guru, any predictions for how Vanderbilt does this season?

Aaron Fitt: I think Gonzalez can be a Jose Vidro type player if it all comes together for him, but he needs to add strength and watch his lower half. Martis can be a quality back-end-of-the-rotation starter. Vanderbilt is on my short list of candidates for preseason No. 1, along with UCLA, Arizona, Missouri and Miami.

 Q:  Eric from Elk Grove asks:
Glenn Gibson obviously looked good in rookie ball, but it's hard to get excited about pitchers who have a hard time cracking 90 miles per hour. What are the odds of him really gaining velocity as he matures? That seems to be a common hope for pitchers, but I'm not so sure that it happens very often. Can he expect to succeed against ML hitters without more velocity?

Aaron Fitt: Gibson's high ranking isn't based on projectability. Even if he tops out at 90-91 for the rest of his career, he still has a shot to be a quality mid-rotation starter thanks to his outstanding changeup and curveball, his intelligence, preparation and phenomenal feel for pitching. He's not just a command-control lefty, because those two offspeed pitches are really separators, and his velo is adequate for a lefty.

 Q:  alexei606 from St. Jay Vermont asks:
Who do you consider a sleeper prospect for the Nats?

Aaron Fitt: Two of my favorite sleepers in the system are Brad Peacock and Martin Beno. Peacock signed as a draft and follow right before the draft -- he's a righthander with a smooth, easy delivery who has reached 93-94 mph at times to go along with a changeup that rivals Gibson's and Martis' for the best in the system. Beno was a late-round pick out of Oklahoma State who dazzled in instructs, running his fastball up to 96 mph to go along with an average-to-plus changeup and promising but inconsistent curve.

 Q:  Steve from VA asks:
How about Brad Meyers, where does he fit in for the Nats plans and when might we see him in DC?

Aaron Fitt: I expected a big year out of Meyers at Loyola Marymount this spring, and he was just OK, but he's a three-pitch guy with average stuff across the board when he's right. The Nationals didn't really see the real Meyers this summer because he was out of gas after a taxing spring, but he's fairly polished and could move quickly.

 Q:  Kevin from Fairfax VA asks:
I am sure that the Nats will continue to draft the best player available at each spot next year, but all things being equal, should the nats concentrate on getting more position players now?

Aaron Fitt: You are right in that they will continue to draft the best player available. I do think pitching is now the strength of this system, but they have added some punch to the system over the last couple of years with Marrero and Burgess, giving them a pair of legit power hitters for the first time in years. Guys like Smolinksi, Derek Norris and Steven Souza also improve the position-player depth some.

 Q:  Karl of Delaware from Georgetown, Delaware asks:
Vermont's outfielders Garrett Bass and Aaron Seuss each hit .293 and showed some pop - which of these prospects has the the higher ceiling?

Aaron Fitt: Wow, now you're digging deep -- I like it. Bass is the son of former big leaguer Kevin Bass; he's a little crude, like a football player on the diamond, but he runs pretty well and has some thunder in his bat... he's a sleeper, and he certainly has more upside than Seuss, a quality baseball player who can hit to all fields and play a good outfield, but who lacks standout tools.

 Q:  Bob from Shirlington, VA asks:
I notice a lack of catchers or middle infielders. Aside from Jesus Flores, who are the Nationals catcher2BSS of the future?

Aaron Fitt: I think Derek Norris' bat gives him the best chance to be a big league regular, though his catch-and-throw skills are crude. Bob Boone saw something in him behind the plate though, which is encouraging. Devin Ivany is a very good defensive catcher, but I don't believe in his bat. I do think he's got a chance to be a big league backup catcher, though.

 Q:  Greg from Annandale asks:
Does Marrero have a better chance of mastering playing in the outfield or at first base?

Aaron Fitt: Just about time to wrap up here, folks -- just a couple more. Marrero is a bad outfielder, to put it bluntly... just not enough foot speed. He has shown promise at first base, and that's where he will remain.

 Q:  wily mo from wily motown asks:
i am the world's 26th-ranked john lannan fan. what's the scouting take on him after a pretty strong season performance-wise? any chance he adds some velocity and turns into erik bedard out there? no? tom glavine? john halama?

Aaron Fitt: Lannan isn't really a guy you can project to add more velocity at this point, but he can run it up to 90-91 at times, which is adequate for a lefty, particularly since he's added a sinking two-seamer that gives him a weapon against righthanded hitters. He has tightened up his curveball some and throws his changeup for strikes. It's not a great repertoire, but it's good enough, and he competes. But he's no more than a back of the rotation guy.

 Q:  chris from los angeles asks:
what are your thoughts on marco estrada? is he more of a relief guy, does he remain a starter? he had good success for the dirtbags, but was only there for a year. since he is mostly a fastballslider guy, is that holding him back as a starter? his K ratio is solid.thanks, keep up the good work

Aaron Fitt: Estrada's struggles are a bit of a mystery to me -- he did put up a solid K-BB, like you pointed out, thanks to an above-average changeup and a nice little curveball. He also has average fastball velocity. He just needs to be more consistent -- and he'll be 25 in July, so it's time he gets moving.

Aaron Fitt: That's all I have time for today -- thanks as always for all of your terrific questions, and sorry I couldn't get to everybody. Be sure to check back on Friday for the Mets top 10 and a John Manuel chat.