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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 and 35 RBIs in May. After a promotion to high Class A Potomac, Marrero tired down the stretch, batting just .220/.311/.418 in August, but rallied in the final two weeks after choking up a bit on the bat. 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. 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. He's better against lefthanded pitching (.312 combined average in 2007) than against righties (.265). 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
Balester has moved quickly through the system since the Nationals drafted the freespirited 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. 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. 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. A potential middleof- 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.
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 (the same Tampa school that produced Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield and Elijah Dukes) 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 and ranked as its No. 1 prospect. 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. 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. 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.
McGeary entered last spring as a potential first-round pick, but he separated his non-throwing shoulder playing basketball. He showed toughness by pitching through the discomfort, though he lost some velocity on his fastball. The Nationals bought him out of a commitment to Stanford by giving him a $1.8 million bonus, a record for the sixth round, and allowing him to be a full-time student for the next three years. 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. When he's healthy, 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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 some 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. Zimmermann's heavy, boring 90-94 fastball is an above-average pitch. He entered professional ball with a pair of quality breaking balls, but the Nationals had him shelve his slider for now and focus on his plus downer curveball with sharp, late bite. He has a sturdy frame and strong legs, and his three-quarters delivery is smooth. He's a very good athlete for a pitcher and was named MVP of the 2007 Division III College World Series after starring as a two-way player. 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. Zimmermann should skip a level and jump to high Class A to start 2008. He could be a mid-rotation starter by 2009.
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. 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. Maxwell shortened his swing considerably over the past year, but he 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 just fringe-average. He strengthened it last winter by throwing footballs. Maxwell garners comparisons to Mike Cameron for his speed/power mix and his inconsistent ability to hit for average. He could push for a job in Washington's outfield sometime in 2008, but a full year at Double-A to refine his approach would do him good.
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. 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. 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. 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.
The Nationals hoped Lannan would be a late-blooming Northern arm who would take off in pro ball, and he developed even quicker than they could imagine, going a combined 12-3, 2.31 over three minor league stops in 2007 en route to the organization's minor league pitcher of the year award. He even broke into Washington's rotation, settling down after hitting Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with pitches in his first big league outing, resulting in a broken hand for Utley and an ejection for Lannan. The Nationals shut him down in September as a precaution because his 160 innings were 22 more than his previous season high. Lannan, who has spent the last three offseasons working with former big leaguer Paul Gibson (the father of former Nats lefty Glenn Gibson, who was traded to the Rays), has trained hard to add strength to his wiry frame. As a result his high-80s fastball can touch 90-91 at times. Last year, he added a sinking two-seamer that's very effective against righthanders, and he commands both fastballs well to both sides of the plate. He throws his changeup for strikes, and it projects as an average pitch. His curveball remains below average, but it's not as loopy as it used to be. He still needs to develop both of his secondary pitches, but his feel for pitching and competitiveness give him a chance to be a back-of-the-rotation starter in Washington out of spring training in 2008.
Smolinski was the best position-player prospect in Illinois in last year, starring as a shortstop and a quarterback for Boylan Catholic High. Some clubs worried about his signability, but the Nationals landed him in the second round for $452,500. He lacks the range to play shortstop in pro ball, so Washington put him in left field after signing him away from Clemson. His solid pro debut was cut short when he fouled a ball off his foot and suffered a small break. Smolinski should be back to 100 percent by the spring and could move fairly quickly, thanks to his polished offensive approach and blue-collar mentality. His setup and stance are quiet and balanced, and he rarely chases pitches out of the strike zone, instead waiting for his pitch and attacking it with his line-drive stroke. Smolinski has good power to the gaps and figures to hit for some home run power as he matures, though his frame lacks projection. He's a fringy runner who might be better suited to third base or second as he fills out, and his arm is solid average. He figures to hit for average at every stop, starting with a likely trip to low Class A in 2008.
Clippard finally reached the majors in 2007, striking out six in six innings while winning his big league debut May 20 against the Mets. That was the peak of his season, however, as major league hitters caught up with his finesse approach and he failed to make adjustments. His confidence took a beating and he faltered at Triple-A after his return to the minors. He finished the year in Double-A before being traded to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo during the Winter Meetings. Clippard can throw his curveball and changeup, both slightly above-average pitches, for quality strikes, and he does a good job of spotting his 87-91 mph fastball, which tops out at 94. His long arms and lanky body add deception to his delivery. With a pedestrian fastball in terms of both velocity and life, Clippard can't afford to miss his spots. He struggled to get hitters out when they were looking fastball and turned into a nibbler, leading to more walks, more runners on base and more three-run homers. Clippard will be just 23 this season, but he doesn't figure to add velocity and his upside is limited. He profiles as a backof- the-rotation starter and could get a shot to fill that role coming out of spring training.
Carr pitched just five innings in his two-year career at Oklahoma State, where he mostly played first base and blasted 34 home runs. But Nationals area scout Ryan Fox saw him light up radar guns in fall practice and urged the club to draft him as a pitcher. That looks like a stroke of genius now that Carr, who signed for $1,000 as an 18th-rounder, dominated high Class A and reached Double-A in his first full pro season. His power fastball-slider repertoire made him a feared closer for Potomac, and he has the potential to fill the same role in the big leagues. With a fresh, electric arm, Carr easily pitches at 92-96 mph with his fastball, routinely touching 97. He attacks hitters with the fastball and an 80-82 mph slider that has good tilt and depth when it's on. He's still working on the spin with his slider and sometimes overthrows it, but it has the makings of a plus pitch. Carr is trying to refine his control, but Washington isn't discouraged by his high walk total because his location isn't all over the place. Most of the time, he just misses off the corners. Carr has a well below-average changeup that he seldom uses, but it doesn't figure to be a big part of his future repertoire. He should return to Double-A to start 2008 and could be in the big leagues as a setup man by the second half of the season.
Desmond was developing slowly but steadily before Washington rushed him to Double-A in 2006, and he struggled mightily and took a full year to get back on track. He was sent back to high Class A in 2007 and batted just .239 before the all-star break, though the Nationals insist it was the hardest .239 you'll ever see. He worked hard to get his hands into a good hitting position and let balls on the outer half travel farther before he knocked them to the opposite field. In the second half, he also made progress turning on inside fastballs and laying off breaking balls in the dirt, and it all clicked in August, when he batted .362/.455/.574. He also drew 57 walks--23 more than his previous season high--illustrating his new, more patient approach. Desmond's quick hands generate plenty of bat speed, which translates into gap power and still could lead to average home run pop. He's a very good defensive shortstop with plus range and arm strength, and he has improved at keeping his focus to make routine plays. He has become a very smart baserunner with average speed. He's a confident, hard-working player whose professional manner is contagious. Desmond still has plenty of work to do at the plate, where his stance is too spread out, causing him to dip and get underneath the ball at times. But he's finally ready for Double-A and still has a chance to be Washington's shortstop of the future. After all, he's still just 22.
A favorite of Nationals assistant general manager Mike Rizzo from the days when both were with the Diamondbacks, Mock was acquired as part of the Livan Hernandez trade in 2006, when he struggled trying to pitch through a knee injury. He had surgery that fall to remove a lesion from a tendon in his left knee, and he pitched just 65 innings in 2007 while trying to work his way back to his previous form. Toward the end of the season and in the Arizona Fall League, Mock once again started to flash electric stuff, showing an 89-94 mph fastball, a power slider that can be a plus pitch, a sharp curveball and a changeup that remains underdeveloped. He has a big, physical frame with strong legs and has the potential to be a workhorse if he can stay healthy. Mock is very good when his command is on, but he needs to become more consistent. He's a fierce competitor but also a little flaky. He talks too much at times and has a tendency to out-think himself. Added to the 40-man roster in November, Mock will compete for a spot in Washington's Opening Day rotation in 2008 but probably will get some more minor league time to refine his command and work on the mental part of his game.
King signed for an above-slot $750,000 as a third-rounder in 2006, but the extended negotiations delayed his pro debut until last April. He surprised the Nationals by claiming their Opening Day shortstop job in low Class A, and he hit homered twice in his first week there. Washington believes that early success got into his head, causing him to try to match teammates Chris Marrero and Justin Maxwell homer for homer. As a result, his average plummeted and his strikeouts soared. The Nationals sent him down to the Gulf Coast League and moved him to second base alongside shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez, and he showed off his solid-average raw power by hitting nine home runs. King hit well in six games after a promotion to Vermont before a pulled hamstring ended his season. King's lower half was too rigid for shortstop, but he has enough range and arm strength to play second base. He's still learning how to turn the double play from that side and correct his footwork. Some scouts project King as an offensive second baseman in the Jeff Kent mold, thanks to his promising line-drive swing and ability to drive the ball up the middle and to the opposite field, but he needs to become a more selective hitter and make more consistent contact. He'll likely get another shot at Hagerstown in 2008.
Internally, the Nationals are divided on Gonzalez. Because they signed him for a $1.4 million bonus--far more than anyone else was willing to pay him--many club officials are reluctant to say anything critical about him, but there are serious questions about whether his fringy tools will allow him to stay at shortstop. His soft, sure hands and smooth actions are his best assets defensively, but his range is below average at short, particularly to his right. He played through a minor shoulder injury for most of 2007 and showed below-average arm strength. Even at full strength, his arm is likely better suited for second base. The Nationals tried to sell Gonzalez as a slick-fielding shortstop when they signed him, but in reality he profiles more as a switch-hitting second baseman with a line-drive bat, similar to Jose Vidro. Like most young switch-hitters, Gonzalez is a better hitter from the left side, with a fluid swing that stays inside the ball consistently. He needs to add strength in his wrists and forearms. His lower half has some thickness and he's a below-average runner. At this early stage of his career, Gonzalez is a contact hitter with advanced strike-zone judgment, but he projects for some gap power. He could get a shot at Hagerstown in 2008, though Vermont seems a more likely destination.
Acquired from the Giants in the 2006 Mike Stanton trade, Martis has made a name for himself in international competition. He threw a seven-inning no-hitter against Panama in the World Baseball Classic, then made two strong starts to help the Netherlands win the European Olympic qualifier tournament in Spain this fall. Martis posted a 0.82 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 11 innings for the Dutch, on the heels of a careerhigh 151-inning season. He lacks overpowering stuff, but he commands a solid four-pitch repertoire and mixes his pitches and locations well. He works at 89-91 mph with his fastball and uses a sinking two-seamer to induce grounders. He can throw his plus changeup for a strike in any count, though he's still working on his two breaking balls. His slider has more promise, but he's more comfortable with his curveball at this stage. A good athlete with a commanding mound presence and impressive feel for pitching, Martis has a good shot to reach the big leagues as a back-of-the-rotation starter, though his upside is limited. He'll pitch in Double-A as a 21-year-old in 2008.
The athletic Peacock played mostly shortstop in high school and was drafted as a catcher, but he was impressive on the mound at Palm Beach (Fla.) CC in the spring of 2007, prompting the Nationals to sign him as a draft-and-follow for $110,000. He garners comparisons to Tim Hudson for his slight stature, smooth delivery and three-pitch repertoire. Peacock works comfortably at 89-92 mph with his lively fastball and touches 93-94 at times. He dazzled in instructional league with a changeup that was at times well aboveaverage with deception and late armside movement. His curveball has some sharpness and has a chance to be another plus pitch in time. Peacock still needs to add some weight to maintain his fastball velocity, but his stuff, command, advanced feel for pitching and excellent makeup suggest he has a chance to be a No. 3 starter in the big leagues someday. He'll likely skip a level and move to low Class A this year.
Casto entered 2007 with a tentative grasp on the Nationals' starting left-field job, but he struggled out of the gate and lost his regular playing time. When he got another brief chance to play every in early May, he went 1-for-20 and was sent down to Triple-A. An outfielder in college who was converted to third base in 2004 and then moved back to the outfield after the 2006 all-star break out of respect for Ryan Zimmerman, Casto wound up back at the hot corner with Columbus. The position shuffle and demotion prevented him from ever getting into a rhythm in 2007, and he hit for his lowest average since his pro debut. One problem is that Casto was feeling for his stride, rushing to get his front foot down and losing leverage as a result. In the past, he had shown average power and the ability to use all fields. He always has been a patient hitter, but Washington would like to see him get more aggressive instead of waiting for the perfect pitch. His slightly above-average arm plays at third base or the outfield, though his speed and range are fringy. His future might now be as a utility player, but he could get another shot at the Opening Day left-field job in 2008.
One of the best high school hitters in the 2002 draft, Whitney slipped to the Indians with the 33rd overall pick and signed for $1.25 million. One of the most exciting position players to come into the Tribe system in years, he drew Manny Ramirez comparisons for his raw power after hitting 10 homers in 45 games at Rookie-level Burlington. But Whitney's career was derailed the following spring, when he broke his leg stepping on a water sprinkler on his way to a post-workout hoops session. The leg required several surgeries to repair, and Whitney wasn't fully healthy until 2006. Even then, his range at third base had decreased significantly and his struggles in the field carried over to the plate. The Indians moved him to first base during last spring and he wound up clubbing an organization-high 32 home runs in high Class A. Whitney has outstanding power to all fields, and he showed more ability to allow balls to get deeper in the zone with opposite-field pop in 2007. His swing still can get long at times and he might never hit for a high average. He's a below-average runner, but his defense at first base is adequate. Plucked from Cleveland in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, Whitney must remain on the 25-man roster all season or be placed on waivers and then offered back to the Indians for $25,000. The Nationals plan on keeping him, and GM Jim Bowden said Whitney will provide an insurance policy for oft-injured Nick Johnson and battle Tony Batista for major league at-bats. Washington made a second major league Rule 5 pick, taking line-drive hitting outfielder Garrett Guzman from the Twins.
Norris' high school senior season got off to a slow start in 2007 when an overthrow hit him in the head while he was sitting in the dugout. He recovered to have a solid year and solidify his place as the best prep prospect in Kansas, and he passed up a scholarship from Wichita State to sign with the Nationals for $210,000 as a fourth-round pick. Norris flashed some of his above-average power potential in his pro debut and he has a fairly mature approach for his age. He's not afraid to take walks and shows the ability to hit the ball the other way, though his swing remains raw. Defensively, Norris didn't start catching until his senior year of high school after playing third base his first three seasons, so naturally he needs more experience to refine his skills behind the plate. But former all-star catcher Bob Boone, Washington's vice president of player personnel, likes how Norris approaches catching and sees some softness in his hands and quickness in his feet. He has a strong arm but needs to work on his exchange after throwing out just 24 percent of basestealers in his debut. The Nationals haven't had much luck developing catchers in recent years, but Norris has enough tools to become their catcher of the future, though that future is years away. He figures to get a crack at Vermont at some point in 2008.
Daniel has athletic genes. His father was a triple-jumper at McNeese State, his mother was a dancer who owned her own studio and his younger brother Cyril is a pitcher at North Carolina A&T. Mike caught Nationals scouting director Dana Brown's eye as a raw 20-year-old junior at North Carolina, and he has begun to grow into his lanky, athletic frame. Daniel has wiry strength and occasional pull power, but he's more of a gap-to-gap, line-drive hitter with a mature, patient approach. He has good balance in the box and squares balls up consistently, but he tends to cut off his swing, preventing him from getting good extension and explosion through the ball. That figures to limit his power. Daniel's versatility is an asset. He's a solid-average runner capable of playing all three outfield spots, though his slightly below-average arm makes left field his best position. He has gotten better at reading balls off the bat and taking better angles to the ball, and his range is average. He could be a No. 2 hole-type hitter and a fourth outfielder in the big leagues. Daniel will advance to Double-A this year.
Athleticism is Englund's calling card, and it's the reason the Nationals gave him a $515,000 bonus to buy the high school shortstop out of his commitment to Washington State. They knew he'd would be a longterm project with high upside, so they're not overly concerned about his early-career struggles at the plate. Englund was one of the most improved players in Nationals camp during the spring, but he fractured the thumb on his non-throwing hand while making a catch against a chain-link fence in his first game of the season in the Gulf Coast League, causing him to miss a month. When he returned, he showed impressive plate discipline but little pop. Englund has average raw power at this point, but he hasn't begun to carry it into game action. His bat has been questioned since his pedestrian senior year of high school, but he has plenty of hand speed. He also has plenty of work to do, as he gets caught in between with his stride and doesn't make consistent contact. He's a slightly above-average runner underway who has a chance to be a decent center fielder but is more likely to outgrow the position and move to right, where his strong arm will be an asset. Some coaches in the system think Englund has more upside than anyone Washington farmhand, but he's a long ways off and likely to return to Vermont after ending last season there.
The Nationals acquired Nunez from the Dodgers in the Marlon Anderson trade after his stellar U.S. debut in the Gulf Coast League in 2006, and he followed it up with a solid debut in full-season ball in 2007. He runs his fastball up to 94 mph and pitches in the low 90s with sinking life. Washington tried to teach him a curveball like it does with most of its young arms, but his low three-quarters arm slot was more conducive to a slider, so he scrapped the curve. He made progress tightening the slider, and it has a chance to be a plus pitch if he can command it more consistently. The Nationals forced him to throw his nascent changeup throughout the year, and he showed flashes of an average change in the instructional league. He still needs to refine both of his secondary offerings as well as his control, and to continue to learn how to set hitters up. Nunez often struggles to maintain his stuff as he gets deeper into outings, and his future may be in the bullpen. For now, he'll continue to start and advance to high Class A.
Pena defected from Cuba and spent a year at Palm Beach (Fla.) CC before the Nationals signed him as a 13th-round pick for a $149,500 bonus. He tried to come back too soon from shoulder tendinitis in 2006, causing it to flare up again and preventing him from making his pro debut that summer. Then he had minor offseason surgery to shave off a small spot near his rotator cuff, but he came back strong and showed electric stuff last summer. Pena's best pitch is a sharp-breaking curveball that grades at plus when it's on, and his 90-94 mph fastball has good life. He also has good feel for a changeup that projects as a solid-average offering. Pena walked nearly as many as he struck out in 2007 because he tries too hard to make the perfect pitch and often falls behind in counts. He has a tendency to fly open in his delivery, perhaps because he's trying to overthrow, which puts stress on his shoulder and hurts his command. When he stays balanced and on a straight line toward home plate, he's very effective. Pena has enough stuff to eventually pitch in a big league rotation, perhaps even as a solid No. 3 starter, but he has plenty of work to do. He'll move up to low Class A in 2008.
Beno has been on the prospect landscape since he was Mississippi high schooler and the Royals drafted him in the 28th round in 2004. After his freshman year at Bossier Parish (La.) CC, Beno opened eyes in the Cape Cod League but turned down $100,000 as a free agent and transferred to Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, where the Dodgers drafted him in the seventh round in 2006. He delayed pro ball again, moving on to Oklahoma State and having a disappointing junior year. Beno worked mostly in relief for the Cowboys and dropped to the 36th round, where he finally signed for $10,000. He made a strong first impression by striking out 38 in 22 innings at Vermont and impressed the Nationals further in instructional league by effortlessly running his fastball up to 96 mph and sitting at 90-94 with late life. He also showed an average-plus changeup and flashed a promising but inconsistent curveball. Beno has a short, smooth arm action, though his mechanics aren't textbook. He has a tendency to leave his fastball up in the zone at times and needs to improve his all-around command. Maturity has been an issue for Beno at times in the past, but the Nationals haven't reported any issues with him so far. His lack of size and a reliable breaking ball likely will keep him in the bullpen, but he has a high ceiling if he can put it all together. He'll open his first full season in low Class A.
Zinicola developed a reputation in college for being either eccentric or immature, depending on who you ask. He followed up his stellar pro debut--during which he posted a 1.65 ERA over three levels while reaching Double-A to rank No. 6 on this list a year ago--with a rough sophomore campaign. The Nationals think his struggles had more to do with his head than anything else. He blew a couple of saves early in the season and felt like he was letting his team down, so he started pressing and his command became erratic. He was better in the second half and looked good in instructional league before heading to the Arizona Fall League. When Zinicola commands his fastball down in the zone, he'll pitch at 92-93 mph and touch 95 with heavy sink. He also mixes in a plus 82-85 mph slider with good bite, and he was working to develop a changeup in instructs. Sometimes he falls into patterns where he doesn't use the slider as much as he ought to. Zinicola still has the stuff to be a late-inning reliever in the majors, but he needs to be more consistent with his command and his mental approach. A standout spring could land him in Washington on Opening Day, but he's more likely to head to Triple-A.
The Nationals have been patient with Bernadina, who entered the system as a very raw 17-year-old with a tantalizing toolset, but his progress was frustratingly slow over his first five seasons. He posted a slugging percentage of exactly .369 in three consecutive seasons in Class A, illustrating his inability to translate his decent raw power into results. He hit that magic .369 slugging number again at Double-A in 2007, then exploded at the European Olympic qualifer in Spain in the fall, leading eventual champion Netherlands with a .632/.759/.1.052 line in seven games. Afterward, Washington placed him on its 40-man roster. Bernadina is a plus-plus athlete and a 65 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he's a superb defensive center fielder with a strong, accurate arm. He has gotten better at hitting hard line drives to the gaps, but he still tends to get underneath the ball too much and needs to make better use of his speed. To that end, the Nationals had him focus on improving his bunting in instructional league. Washington wanted him to be more aggressive at the plate, so his walk totals were down in 2007, but so were his strikeouts as he did a better job making consistent contact. Bernadina's bat remains a question mark, but his speed and defense give him a good chance to reach the big leagues as an extra outfielder. He should play at Triple-A in 2008.
The Nationals bought Dean out of a commitment to Oklahoma with a $120,000 bonus as a seventh-round pick in June. He made a positive first impression in his debut before hitting a wall late in the summer. Washington compares his lean, athletic body and clean arm action to Collin Balester's, and like a younger Balester, Dean needs to get stronger. But he already operates at 89-91 mph and touches 92 with his lively fastball, and there's plenty of room for projection. He throws his fastball and his hard, sharp curveball for strikes, and he flashes a promising changeup. There were questions about Dean's makeup in high school, but he's young and simply needs to mature. His command isn't bad for his age, but it will have to improve as he moves up the ladder. Dean figures to start the year in extended spring training and then advance to Vermont. He could blossom into a mid-rotation starter as he matures physically and mentally.