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Strasburg went undrafted out of high school in 2006 because of questions about his conditioning, work ethic and maturity. Three years later, he was the No. 1 overall pick and regarded by many scouts as the best prospect in draft history. Strasburg's transformation began his freshman year, when he worked hard to get into better shape and posted a 2.43 ERA and seven saves out of San Diego State's bullpen. His coming-out party came in the summer of 2007, when he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the New England Collegiate League and dominated in an exhibition against Team USA. As a sophomore, he struck out 23 batters in a game against Utah on his way to first-team All-America honors, then served as the ace for USA Baseball's collegiate national and Olympics teams that summer. While withstanding a relentless maelstrom of hype and national media attention, Strasburg posted one of the most dominant seasons in college baseball history in 2009, going 13-1, 1.32 with 195 strikeouts and 19 walks in 109 innings to lead the Aztecs to regionals for the first time since 1991 and capture Baseball America's College Player of the Year award. The Nationals drafted Strasburg in spite of agent Scott Boras' proclaimed desire to net Strasburg the largest contract in draft history, and he signed just minutes before the Aug. 17 deadline for a record $15.1 million major league deal, including an unprecedented $7.5 million bonus. Strasburg is a once-in-a-generation talent. His plus-plus fastball sits in the mid- to upper 90s and the Nationals have seen him hit 102 mph. His breaking ball rates as a second plus-plus offering, a power 81-84 mph curveball that he can throw for strikes or use as a chase pitch. Even when he doesn't stay on top of it, it's a tough pitch, becoming more of a hard slider. He also flashes a plus changeup, though he seldom needed the pitch to dominate in college. Strasburg has excellent control with all of his pitches, and he also has very advanced command within the strike zone. He's athletic, physical and durable, and he earns raves for his makeup both on and off the field. The only thing Strasburg doesn't have is pro experience. The general consensus is that there are no red flags in his delivery, as his arm action is fairly loose and he uses his legs well. But it should be noted that there are some within the organization who are concerned that he eventually could break down because he locks out his elbow on his follow through, putting torque on his shoulder. Still, even those with reservations say they wouldn't tinker with his mechanics. Strasburg got his first taste of pro ball in the Arizona Fall League, where he topped out at 98 mph in his first outing and posted a 4.26 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 16 innings. He tweaked his left knee while shagging flies at the end of the AFL season, but the injury wasn't serious. Strasburg figures to compete for a job in the major league rotation in spring training, and he might never throw a pitch in the minors, though Washington might also choose to ease him into pro ball with an assignment to Double-A or Triple-A. He projects as a true No. 1 starter and a Cy Young Award winner, and anything less will be a disappointment.
Norris ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the short-season New York-Penn League in 2008 and the No. 4 prospect in the low Class A South Atlantic League in 2009, when he led the circuit in walks (90) and on-base percentage (.413). Two days before he was scheduled to leave instructional league for the Arizona Fall League, Norris broke the hamate bone in his hand while fouling a ball off, sidelining him for the rest of the winter. Norris has a strong, compact swing and the ability to make consistent, hard contact to all fields. He has a mature, patient offensive approach, excellent pitch recognition and advanced strike-zone awareness. He has above-average power to the pull side and also good power the other way. Behind the plate, he has good agility and blocking skills, solid-average arm strength and a quick release, helping him throw out 36 percent of basestealers last season. The Nationals kept him in the Sally League all year to improve his receiving skills, and he led SAL catchers with 18 errors and 28 passed balls. Converted from third base as high school senior, he's still working on his setup, specifically keeping his hands back and his knees out of the way. He sometimes loses focus on his defense. Norris projects as an above-average offensive player in the big leagues, and if he can become an average defender, he can be an all-star. He should be fully healthy for spring training and will start 2010 at high Class A Potomac.
The son of former XM Radio host Mark Patrick, Storen racked up 15 saves in two seasons as Stanford's closer. The Nationals took him with the 10th overall pick in June, compensation for failing to sign 2008 first-rounder Aaron Crow, and signed him for a below-slot $1.6 million bonus as a draft-eligible sophomore. He zoomed to Double-A in his pro debut, then led the Arizona Fall League with a 0.66 ERA. Storen's aggressive mentality and power repertoire are perfect for the late innings. He attacks hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball that touches 97, and he complements it with a pair of hard breaking balls. Some evaluators like his slider better, and others prefer his curve, but both have good depth. He also worked on a changeup in the AFL. He pounds the strike zone and doesn't get rattled easily. Storen's fastball is rather straight and he can be homer-prone when he leaves it up in the zone. Baserunners tended to get good jumps against him during his debut, so the Nationals worked with him on quickening his times to the plate. He already has cut his time from 1.4 seconds to about 1.25, showing good aptitude for adjustments. Storen is on the fast track and figures to reach the majors by 2010, perhaps as soon as Opening Day. He profiles as a closer or setup man and could be closing games in Washington by the end of the season.
Though Desmond never had hit better than .264 at any minor league stop heading into 2009, Nats officials still believed he was close to taking off. After missing nearly two months early in the season following surgery to remove the hamate bone in his left hand, Desmond rewarded their faith by hitting .330 in the minors, then getting 10 hits in his first 17 at-bats following a September callup. If Desmond's bat continues to develop, he has a chance for average or better tools across the board. His quick hands and strong forearms generate plus bat speed and average power, and he has done a good job shortening his swing and becoming more patient at the plate. At shortstop, he has good range and a 65 arm on the 20-80 scouting scale. He is live-bodied and athletic, and he plays with plenty of energy. He has average speed and is a smart baserunner. Desmond is capable of making spectacular plays, but he must improve his concentration to cut down on errors on routine plays. He's not a finished product at the plate and still chases pitches out of the zone at times. Desmond will compete for a big league middle-infield job in spring training, but he figures to open the year back at Triple-A Syracuse.
Espinosa is the latest shortstop prospect from Long Beach State, following Bobby Crosby, Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria. After signing for an above-slot bonus of $525,000 as a third-round pick, he had a strong pro debut in 2008, then skipped a level last season and continued to produce in high Class A. Espinosa is a gamer with excellent instincts and solid tools across the board. He stands out most for his defense, with good range, sure hands and an above-average arm. He's a good athlete with excellent body control and agility and solid-average speed. Offensively, he's a switch-hitter who can drive the ball from both sides of the plate, though his OPS was .133 points higher while batting lefthanded in 2009. Espinosa has some length and leverage in his swing, which helps him hit for average power but also leads to strikeouts. He tends to get caught on his front foot and could drive the ball more consistently if he learned to stay back and use his legs more. Questions still linger about how Espinosa's bat will play at higher levels, and he will get a chance to address them at Double-A Harrisburg in 2010. Even if he doesn't hit for average, he should do enough things well to eventually earn a job as an everyday big leaguer. Espinosa and Ian Desmond look like Washington's double-play combination of the future.
No. 1 on this list two years ago, Marrero had his march through the system sidetracked when he broke his fibula and tore ligaments in his right ankle sliding into home plate in 2008. He returned to high Class A for a third straight season in 2009, and he made strides offensively and defensively to earn a mid-August promotion to Double-A. He batted .349/.402/.542 in the Arizona Fall League. Marrero's best tool is his plus-plus raw power to all fields, though he's still learning to tap into it. He arrived at spring training in the best shape of his life and worked hard to shorten his bat path and get himself into good hitting position. He did a good job using the middle of the field, and he could be an average or better hitter as he matures. Despite Washington's efforts to improve his stride at the plate, Marrero still has a tendency to step in the bucket, making him vulnerable to offspeed stuff away. He is big and long-levered, so his swing always will have some holes. Marrero lacks athleticism and speed and is a below-average defender at first base, though he's working at improving his agility, hands and ability to pick balls out of the dirt. Marrero will return to Double-A as a 21-year-old in 2010, and if all goes well he could break into the big leagues by 2012. His bat will have to carry him, but he has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order power hitter.
The son of a former Athletics minor leaguer of the same name, Kobernus was a three-year starter at California, playing mostly third base his first two seasons before moving to second as a junior. After signing for $705,500 as a second-round pick in June, he had his pro debut cut short after 10 games by an old knee injury that required minor surgery. The Nationals expected him to be fully healthy by the middle of the fall. Versatile and athletic, Kobernus has a well-rounded game. He makes consistent contact with a line-drive, gap-to- gap swing, and he has an advanced offensive approach. He has above-average speed and outstanding baserunning instincts, helping him rack up 44 steals in three years at Cal. His hands, feet and arm all work well at second base, and he has a chance to be a plus defender there, or at third base if Washington desired. He's a baseball rat with a good work ethic. Kobernus still is learning the subtleties of his relatively new position, refining his footwork, pivots and feeds. He has fringe-average power, though he can run into occasional homers and the Nationals believe he could hit as many as 15-20 per year. Kobernus could move quickly through the system, starting with a likely assignment to low Class A Hagerstown in 2010. He profiles as a solid big league regular, perhaps as soon as 2012.
The injury-prone Maxwell stayed healthy in 2009, when he scuffled through his first season in Triple-A. He also had three stints in the big leagues, going 0-for-16 in seven games in May but rebounding with a .306/.370/.551 line in September. A physical specimen with plus athleticism, Maxwell has above-average power potential and a patient offensive approach. Nats hitting coach Rick Eckstein and first-base coach Marquis Grissom got the idea to lower his hands to chest level after watching video of other long-levered sluggers like Willie Stargell and Dave Winfield, and the adjustment fueled Maxwell's September surge by getting him in a stronger position to drive the ball more consistently. He's a plus runner who stole 41 bases in 50 tries last season. He's also an above-average defender in center field with excellent range and instincts. Maxwell still must prove he can make consistent contact and hit in the majors over a full season. He also must become more aggressive against pitches away. He has a below-average arm. Injuries have marred four of his last six seasons, and he'll be 26 in 2010. The Nationals will likely give Maxwell a chance to win a starting outfield job in spring training. If he hits, he can be a valuable four-tool player.
Burgess comes from the same Hillsborough High (Tampa) program that spawned Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield and Elijah Dukes. He reached high Class A in his first full pro season in 2008 but struggled with the bat there last year. Burgess packs enormous strength into his thick, compact build, giving him plus-plus raw power. He has worked with a personal trainer to keep his weight in check, and he's very motivated to improve his game. His plus arm is very accurate, helping him lead the minors with 26 outfield assists in 2008. Fewer baserunners challenged him in 2009, but he still tied for fourth in the Carolina League with nine assists. He has become a solid overall defender in right field as well. Though the Nationals are encouraged that he's finally learning to shorten his swing and cut down his load, his progress hasn't been reflected in his numbers and he may never hit for average. He still chases a lot of breaking balls in the dirt, and his swing still has some length. He's a below-average runner. At the least, Burgess should have a chance to be a power bat off the bench. Whether he ever reaches his potential as a slugger depends upon the development of his bat, which is far from a sure thing. Still just 21, he'll get a crack at Double-A in 2010.
The Nationals knew Hood was a long-term project when they signed him away from an Alabama football scholarship for a $1.1 million bonus, and they were pleased with his development in 2009. He added muscle in the offseason and quickly hit his way to short-season Vermont, where he held his own against older competition. Physical and athletic, Hood stands out most for his lightning-quick hands, which should lead to above-average power as he matures. He showed a more balanced offensive approach in his second pro season, doing a better job staying back and driving balls to all fields, though most of his power is still to the pull side. Hood's strike-zone awareness and pitch recognition are still developing. He has some arm strength, but he's still learning basic throwing mechanics and exchanges, so his arm plays below average. He's a fringe-average runner who will be limited to left field, where he's currently a below-average defender. The Nationals are betting on Hood's bat. If he develops as they hope, he could be an average or better hitter with plus power and serviceable defensive skills, though he's a long way off yet. He'll get his first taste of low Class A in 2010.
Perez showed a patient approach and the ability to make solid contact in two seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. Near the end of spring training in 2009, the Nationals gave him a spot start in a Triple-A game against the Braves and Tommy Hanson, and Perez made a positive impression with a multihit performance. He kept on hitting in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, batting .381 to lead the league as well as all players in short-season circuits. Perez has a wiry, athletic frame and plus-plus speed. Though he's not overly physical, he does have quick hands and strong wrists, and he can drive the ball to the middle of the field. He doesn't project to have much power but profiles as a quality table setter, especially as he improves his basestealing skills. He was thrown out in a third of his 24 attempts in 2009. He's a good bunter who gets on base by working walks and beating out infield hits. Perez is a plus defender in center field with excellent range and an average-to-plus arm, helping him rank second in the GCL with seven outfield assists. He figures to start 2010 in extended spring training before moving up to Vermont. If Perez keeps hitting like he did in 2009, he could force his way up the organization ladder quickly.
After the Marlins signed him away from a commitment to Texas A&M with a $1.225 million bonus in 2005, Thompson progressed slowly but steadily through their system until 2008, when he missed two months with a minor shoulder injury. He returned to Double-A in 2009 and turned a corner after Jacksonville pitching coach Reid Cornelius taught him a cutter in mid-July. Four days after learning the pitch, he used it to rack up nine of his 10 strikeouts over six innings in his penultimate start as a member of the Florida organization. The Nationals acquired him at the July 31 trade deadline for first baseman Nick Johnson, and he posted a 3.31 ERA in six starts after the deal. At his best, Thompson shows a fastball that sits at 90-91 and touches 93 with good movement. He has good feel for a four-seamer, a two-seamer and a solid-average changeup in addition to his newfound cutter. His slurvy breaking ball is still a work in progress but shows sharp, hard break at times. At others, his breaking ball deserts him and his fastball velocity dips, so he must become more consistent. Thompson figures to start 2010 in Triple-A and could push for a job in Washington's rotation during the season. He projects as a No. 4 or 5 starter.
A teammate of Red Sox prospect Lars Anderson at Jesuit High in Carmichael, Calif., Higley redshirted at Loyola Marymount in 2007 and transferred to Sacramento CC in 2008. A shortstop in high school, he shifted to first base in junior college and then to the outfield in pro ball. The Nationals signed him for a $150,000 bonus. Higley was slated to start his first full pro season in low Class A before straining ligaments in his wrist late in the spring. He wound up spending most of 2009 at Vermont, but homered twice in his second game after a late- August promotion to Hagerstown. Higley has athletic bloodlines--his father was a wrestler at Iowa--and a frame to match. He's a line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter, but it's uncertain if he'll ever have enough pop to hold down an everyday job as a corner outfielder. Washington projects him to grow into average or better power down the road, but right now all his pop is to the pull side. He's an aggressive hitter who needs to improve his plate discipline and get better against offspeed stuff. His slightly above-average speed and arm strength are assets in the outfield, and he has excellent instincts in both right and center. He's a gamer with an aggressive mentality and a good work ethic. If his bat develops, Higley has a chance for average or better tools across the board. If it doesn't, he still could have value as an extra outfielder with premium defensive skills. He'll start 2010 back at Hagerstown.
Meyers opened his pro career by pitching 24 consecutive scoreless innings in 2007 and led the minor leagues with a 1.72 ERA last season, but the road in between was rocky. He came down with a dead arm in the second half of his pro debut and saw his fastball dip to 82-85 mph during a rough 2008 campaign. He improved his mechanics, velocity and fastball command to post a dominant 2009, reaching Double-A and capturing the organization's pitcher of the year award. Long and lanky with a high three-quarters arm slot, Meyers pitches downhill with an 88-90 mph fastball that tops out at 92. He locates the pitch very well to both sides of the plate, and he induces swings and misses thanks to its life and deception. Meyers' four-pitch mix also includes an average 82-84 mph slider, an average changeup with some fade and a short curveball that he uses as a show pitch. Meyers pounds the zone, but his stuff is not overpowering and his upside is limited to the back of a big league rotation. He also must overcome lingering questions about his durability. Even in his breakout 2009 season, he missed a few starts in July with a heel injury. Meyers should get a crack at Triple-A in 2010, though he could start the year back in Harrisburg.
Morris arrived at Kansas State as a skinny, 164-pound Texas kid who wasn't ready for the Big 12 Conference, so he redshirted in 2006. After two up-and-down seasons, he had a breakout summer in the West Coast League in 2008, leading the circuit in strikeouts and drawing free-agent interest from scouts after having gone unpicked as a draft-eligible sophomore. He returned to Kansas State for his junior year and exploded onto the national scene, setting school records for wins (14) and strikeouts (100 in 116 innings) en route to first-team All-America honors. In the process, he led the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament appearance ever. After signing him for $270,000 as a fourth-rounder, the Nationals sent Morris to the Gulf Coast League to focus on adding muscle, and he's now up to 200 pounds. In college, Morris dominated exclusively with a 90-91 mph fastball that touches 94 and an average slider. His fastball cuts, sinks and rides, and he commands it on the corners and at the knees. He worked on his changeup in his pro debut and instructional league, and it has the makings of giving him a third average pitch. He also repeated his low three-quarters arm slot more consistently in instructs and improved his ability to hold baserunners, reducing his times to the plate from 1.6 to 1.3 seconds. Morris still must add strength and refine his changuep if he is to stick as a starter, but his competitiveness and ability to pound the strike zone should make him a big leaguer even if he's relegated to a relief role. Morris could begin 2010 in high Class A and move quickly.
An excellent athlete, Peacock played mostly shortstop in high school and the Nationals selected him in the 41st round of the 2006 draft as a catcher. He was impressive on the mound at Palm Beach (Fla.) CC in the spring of 2007, throwing two-seam fastballs that topped out at 94 mph and flashing an above-average knuckle-curve. After signing him for $110,000 as a draft-and-follow, the Nationals tweaked his arm slot and had him to throw a four-seamer and a conventional curve. He struggled with the adjustments and got bombed in low Class A in 2008, but once he was demoted to Vermont, he went back to his three-quarters arm-slot and college repertoire. Peacock has a quick arm and a smooth arm action, and he maintained a 90-94 mph fastball throughout last season. His knuckle-curve and changeup also rate as slightly above-average pitches when they're on. Peacock could take off once he learns to be a little more aggressive and do a better job attacking the bottom of the strike zone. He figures to return to high Class A to start 2010 but could reach Double-A by midseason.
In his second season in the United States, Jaime had a breakout year at Vermont and Hagerstown. He always had explosive arm strength, but he was extremely raw when he arrived in the United States in 2008. He had too much baby fat, poor feel for his secondary stuff and a delivery that needed tightening. Now Jaime is stronger and more athletic. He's learning to throw strikes and repeat his delivery more consistently, though he still rushes it at times and it still has a bit of violence. Jaime's best pitch is a 92-96 mph fastball that routinely touches 98. He generally can throw it for strikes but still is working on commanding it within the strike zone. He flashes an above-average downer curveball, but most of the time it remains a below-average slurve. The Nationals used him as a starter in 2009 and forced him to throw his breaking ball and nascent changeup, but he still has very little feel for the change and his future is undoubtedly as a power arm in the bullpen. Jaime has the best pure arm in the system outside of Stephen Strasburg, and he eventually could become a major league closer if everything clicks. He remains quite a ways off from that ceiling, however, and could return to low Class A to start 2010.
Estrada's career has progressed in fits and starts since he transferred from Glendale (Calif.) CC to Long Beach State in 2005. His stock rose that spring when he went 8-3, 2.43 for the Dirtbags, sank when he broke his collarbone before the 2006 season, increased again in Hawaii Winter Baseball that fall, then fell again when he struggled through a rough 2007. He spent most of the last two years in Triple-A, where he held his own before tiring down the stretch both seasons, just in time for a pair of lackluster big league callups. Estrada is undersized but has a quick arm, capable of producing a low-90s fastball that tops out at 94. He has one of the best changeups in the system, an above-average pitch with good arm speed and tumbling action. He also throws a solid-average 78-81 mph curveball with some sharpness to it. The Nationals would like to see Estrada become more aggressive and attack hitters more, because he has a tendency to nibble. He also runs into trouble with his fastball because his size and low arm slot give the pitch a flat plane. Estrada's lack of physicality could make him a better fit in a big league bullpen, but his threepitch mix does give him a chance to be a back-end starter. He'll compete for a big league job in spring training.
After his star turn at the 2008 Florida high school all-star game in Sebring, Fla., Hicks climbed into the fourth round of the draft. He turned down a scholarship offer from Central Florida to sign with Washington for an aboveslot $475,000 bonus. After making two appearances in his pro debut, Hicks broke his left middle finger during a fielding drill at the end of his first day in instructional league but was completely healthy by spring training in 2009. He spent the offseason working on making his legs stronger and showed up in minor league camp more than a month early. But Hicks struggled with his consistency and command at Vermont, so he was sent back to the Gulf Coast League, where he finished strong. Hicks garners frequent comparisons to Nationals lefthander Ross Detwiler for his tall, skinny frame and electric arm, and like a young Detwiler he must continue to add strength. He currently sits at 88-90 mph and touches 91 with his fastball, but he projects to add velocity as he matures. He flashes an average- to-plus curveball and an average changeup, but he's still working on his feel for both pitches. Hicks is a tough competitor and a good athlete. He has a tendency to open up his front side too quickly, and his command should improve as he learns to make his delivery more efficient. Hicks has as much upside as any pitcher in the system outside of Stephen Strasburg, but he has a long way to go. He figures to start 2010 in low Class A.
The 35th overall pick in the 2003 draft, Atilano never unlocked his potential with the Braves after signing for $950,000. Washington took a low-risk gamble in August 2006, trading Daryle Ward for him shortly after Atilano had Tommy John surgery. After missing nearly all of 2007, he has re-established himself as a prospect over the last two years. He got off to a rough start in 2009, posting an 0-3, 8.79 mark in April, and the Nationals noticed he was opening up too much in his delivery, decreasing his deception and sink. He took off after correcting the problem and finished the year with two strong starts in Triple-A and a 3-0, 2.21 showing in the World Cup, helping Puerto Rico finish in fourth place, equaling its best finish since 1976. Atilano attacks hitters with an 89-92 mph fastball with heavy sink and fools them with an above-average changeup. He has improved his conditioning over the last year and is a good athlete for his size. Washington believes Atilano is a breaking ball away from being a real good major league pitcher. He'll flash an average curveball at times, but at others the pitch is just a short spinner waiting to be crushed. The Nationals have a glut of back-of-the-rotation candidates, and he could force his way into that mix in spring training. He's more likely to start the year in Triple-A.
The Nationals signed McGeary for a sixth-round-record $1.8 million bonus and agreed to pay for him to attend classes at Stanford from September through early June for the first three years of his career. While living with three Cardinal pitchers (including Drew Storen), McGeary took 20 credit hours per week to get on track to graduate by June 2010. He decided to skip the spring quarter in 2009 to be with the Nationals from spring training through the end of the minor league season, before returning to Stanford for the fall and winter. But McGeary's first season as a full-time pro pitcher didn't go as planned. He struggled mightily with his control, even after a demotion to Vermont, and averaged a jarring 6.9 walks per nine innings. Mechanical problems largely accounted for McGeary's wildness. He has a tendency to get too deep on the back side of his delivery, causing him to get under the ball and throw uphill. He also struggles to repeat his release point and stay in sync. All of that took a toll on his fastball command, and his velocity wavered between 85-91 mph. He still shows good finish on his downer curveball at times, but his feel for the pitch comes and goes. He continues to develop his changeup, and at his best it gives him a third average or better pitch. McGeary is still young and has the potential to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter someday, but 2010 is a crucial year for him. The Nationals have seen other high-profile arms get derailed similarly in recent years (Colton Willems, Mike Hinckley, Clint Everts, Josh Smoker), and they need McGeary to get back on track to avoid that sort of wandering path through the minors.
It took Bernadina five full years just to reach Double-A, but his career finally picked up some momentum in 2007, when his strong play for the Netherlands in the European Olympic qualifier earned him a spot on the Nationals' 40-man roster. He carried that momentum into 2008, posting his best offensive season and earning major league callups in June and September. After starting last season in Triple-A, Bernadina returned to the majors in mid-April but broke his ankle in his third game when his foot got jammed at the bottom of the outfield wall as he was making a highlight-reel catch. He returned in time to play two rehab games in late August and was completely healthy in instructional league, where he made significant progress with his bunting. Bernadina's best tool is his plus-plus speed, which plays very well on the basepaths thanks to his solid instincts. He also has excellent range and a strong, accurate arm in center field, where he's an above-average defender. Bernadina has shortened his swing significantly over the last year, and he has average raw power, but he might never hit enough to hold down an everyday job in the majors. His speed and defense give him value as an extra outfielder, and if he continues to mature offensively he could become a Nyjer Morgan-type player. He should compete for a big league job in the spring.
Atwood posted a 5.21 ERA in three years at South Carolina, but the Nationals believed they had found a sleeper in the 12th round of the 2008 draft after his strong pro debut. They skipped him a level to high Class A to start 2009, and he struggled mightily out of the gate, going 0-3, 11.65 in April, before settling down to go 6-3, 2.92 over the next three months. He tired down the stretch, however, and his velocity dropped. At his best, Atwood has good command of a solid three-pitch mix. His fastball sits at 88-90 and touches 92, and he spots it well to both sides of the plate. His best pitch is a solid-average changeup with fade, sink and good arm speed. His slow curveball has tight spin and a chance to give him a third average pitch. He has a lean frame and a clean, whippy arm action that reminds several Nats officials of John Lannan. Atwood's mechanics are sound, though he sometimes opens up too early in his delivery. He needs to improve his pickoff move and fine-tune his overall command, but he should be ready to take on Double-A in 2010. He profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter.
The Expos had a virtually nonexistent international budget when Major League Baseball owned the franchise prior to its move to Washington, and Severino--signed for $6,000 in February 2004--might go down as their most significant international acquisition during that period. After making his pro debut that summer, Severino had Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for all of 2005, and he spent the next two years dominating the Dominican Summer League. He has moved fairly quickly since arriving in the United States in 2007, climbing to Double-A in 2009, then following up with a strong winter with Licey in the Dominican League. Severino is undersized but makes up for it with his fearlessness and quick arm. He attacks the strike zone with an 89-93 mph fastball that touches 94, and he pitches inside very well with both his four-seamer and his two-seamer. His 76-82 mph breaking ball has 11-to-5 action and is still a work in progress. Sometimes it's an average pitch with sharp break, but at other times he gets around it and it's sweepy. He seldom throws his breaking ball to righthanders but does mix in a workable changeup. Severino is generally sound mechanically, though he flies open on occasion. He garners comparisons to J.C. Romero for his size, delivery and stuff, and his future is likely as a lefty specialist in the Romero mold. He could push his way to the majors at some point in 2010.
Nieto and his parents came to the United States from Cuba on a makeshift raft when he was 8. He began catching shortly thereafter and joined a travel team with future No. 3 overall pick Eric Hosmer when he was 11, and the duo eventually led American Heritage High to BA's final No. 1 national ranking as seniors in 2008. A fifth-round pick that June, Nieto signed three days before the Aug. 15 deadline for a $376,000 bonus. He missed half of his first full pro season in 2009 after pulling a hamstring, and when he returned, he looked lost at the plate. Nieto's bat was his best tool in high school. The switch-hitter showed solid-average power to all fields from both sides of the plate and had a good feel for hitting. But he was a mess mechanically last summer, as his stroke was too long and his approach was inconsistent and passive. Nieto did make some strides defensively and threw out 44 percent of basestealers in 2009, but he still has a long way to go with his receiving, footwork and game-calling skills. He has a slightly above-average arm with good accuracy and a quick release. Nieto needs to get his body in better shape and add strength. He still has the ability to become an everyday big leaguer, but his regression in 2009 was discouraging. Nieto must reset and start fresh in 2010, likely at Vermont after beginning the season in extended spring training.
Pena defected from Cuba and spent a year at Palm Beach (Fla.) CC before the Nationals signed him as a 13throunder in 2006 for $149,500. His pro career has been marked by shoulder issues. Tendinitis delayed his pro debut in 2006, and he had minor offseason surgery to shave off a small spur near his rotator cuff before 2007. Shoulder soreness continued to hamper him in 2008, and he had another cleanup surgery before last season. When Pena has been healthy, he has shown electric stuff. He attacks hitters with a 90-94 mph fastball with good life, and his above-average power curveball is one of the best in the system. He also features an average changeup. Some of Pena's shoulder issues have been caused by his mechanics. In the past, his arm dragged behind in his delivery, putting stress on his shoulder. His arm action is still a little long in the back, but he has made progress cleaning it up. Pena worked as a closer in Cuba prior to defecting, and the Nationals tried to make him a starter for the first few years of his career before moving him to the bullpen last year. He thrived there, going 2-0, 0.49 in 10 appearances, and the Nationals will keep him in a relief role moving forward. Pena will advance to Double-A in 2010. If he can stay healthy, he could jump to the big leagues quickly as a reliever. He has the stuff to be a power setup man in the majors.
Mandel's stock soared after he posted a 1.91 ERA as a reliever during his sophomore year at Baylor, but he struggled to repeat that success as a junior and went undrafted in 2006. He moved into a starting role as a senior, going 7-8, 4.55, and the Nationals scooped him up and kept him in the rotation. Physical and athletic, Mandel filled in at first base and in the outfield while at Baylor. He has emerged as an innings-eating workhorse over the last two years. Mandel is a classic sinker/slider pitcher, and he also features an average changeup. He works at 86-91 mph with a late-sinking two-seamer, and he commands the pitch well. Mandel's slider is a slightly below-average pitch that can get loopy at times, but it's workable. Mandel never will be overpowering, but he has good feel for pitching and is a safe bet to induce plenty of groundballs in the majors, whether in a middle-relief role or as a starter. He should get a shot in Triple-A in 2010, with a big league callup possible by season's end.
Lombardozzi's father, also named Steve, hit .412 in the 1987 World Series to help the Twins topple the Cardinals. The younger Lombardozzi is built just like his dad and plays with the same hard-nosed style. A shortstop at St. Petersburg (Fla.) JC, he moved to second base after turning pro in 2008, and he posted a .987 fielding percentage at the new position last season. He has good infield actions, and his range and arm strength are fine for second base. Lombardozzi's excellent baseball instincts make all of his tools play up, including his solid-average speed. Offensively, he makes good contact from both sides of the plate, hitting .292 last season against lefthanders and .298 against righties. He also draws walks and is an adept bunter. Hagerstown hitting coach Tony Tarasco helped Lombardozzi increase his strength, and the addition of a leg kick helped him drive the ball into the gaps more often, though he'll always have below-average power. Lombardozzi lacks any standout tools, but he does all the little things to help teams win and could have a big league future as a sparkplug in the Nick Punto mold. He'll advance to high Class A in 2010.
Widely regarded as the best pure hitter in the Texas draft crop in 2008, Ramirez bypassed a Tulane scholarship to sign for $1 million right before the Aug. 15 deadline. The Nats had the money to meet his asking price after negotiations broke down with first-rounder Aaron Crow. Ramirez's first full season in pro ball was disappointing, as his bat revealed itself to be considerably less advanced than previously thought. He does have a smooth, compact lefthanded swing and textbook hitting mechanics, but hitting is his lone potential plus tool and his offensive approach needs plenty of work. He's a very aggressive hitter who chases high fastballs and breaking balls in the dirt. He struggled mightily against lefthanders in 2009, batting just .200/.264/.263. Ramirez has a flat, line-drive swing, and while some scouts believe his bat speed will eventually lead to average power potential, others doubt he'll hit enough homers to be an everyday left fielder. Though he played a few games in right field last season, his below-average speed, arm strength and defense will anchor him to left as he moves through the minors. Ramirez will have to hit his way to the majors, and his bat is years away from being big league-ready. He'll get a shot at low Class A in 2010.
Rosenbaum began his college career at Indiana, where he threw just 20 innings as a freshman in 2007 before transferring to Xavier. He led the Musketeers in strikeouts in each of his two seasons with them, and in 2009 he helped Xavier reach its first NCAA regional playoff, where he struck out nine and allowed just two runs over 6 2/3 innings in a win against Sam Houston State. After signing for $20,000 as a 22nd-round pick, he dominated younger competition in his pro debut, then made a strong impression in instructional league. He pounds the strike zone with an 88-91 mph fastball that touches 92, and he can cut and sink the pitch effectively. His slurvy breaking ball has good depth, and the Nationals envision it as an average slider after he tightens it up a little. He also has good feel for a changeup, which he continued to develop in instructional league, but he needs to refine the pitch. The Nationals compare Rosenbaum to Will Atwood and John Lannan, and he could move just as quickly as they have. He might skip two levels and start 2010 in high Class A Potomac. Some club officials believe he could reach the big leagues by September if he shifts to a relief role. Washington will leave him in a starting role for now, but his future could be as a middle reliever.
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