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Nationals Chat with Aaron Fitt

 Q:  Russ from NY asks:
What does the future hold for former The Masters College product Jerry Owens?

Aaron Fitt: Hello everyone, and welcome to the first ever Nationals chat. Let's get going.

Moderator: Jerry Owens could have a very bright future, and he just missed making the top 10. The fastest player in the system, Owens understands his game very well and plays to his strengths, hitting the ball on the ground and learning to work the count. He is a touch old for a guy who spent the year in low Class A, so the Nationals will try to move him quickly and see what he can do - which is one reason they sent him to the Arizona Fall League this year. Once Owens is fully recovered from his shoulder injury, and he should be by Opening Day, he will move from left field to center to take better advantage of his speed.

 Q:  Charles Berg from Houston, Texas asks:
When will the Nats stop drafting complete signability guys in the Draft?

Aaron Fitt: Maybe when a new ownership group is in place. As long as MLB owns the franchise, signability will be the number one concern, but the new owners will almost certainly allocate more resources to the draft and take a few more gambles.

 Q:  dave from maryland asks:
what direction might the nationals go with the 4th pick in the 2005 MLB Draft?

Aaron Fitt: The Nats have a lot of needs, but foremost among them is impact power bats. Expect their top pick to be used on a power hitter, not another fast-moving reliever like Chad Cordero (2003) and Bill Bray (2004).

 Q:  Craig from Chesapeake, Va asks:
Why would the Nationals want to try and make Bill Bray a starter when a left-handed closer is more sought after? Also what about little old William & Mary with so many players on top lists(ie.)Chris Ray, Bill Bray, and Brendan Harris, not to mention Chris Shaver?

Aaron Fitt: One reason the Nationals have experimented with Bray as a starter is simply to get him more innings. He hasn't pitched a lot over the last four to five years, so the more innings he gets, the better. Three or four innings at the beginning of a game might be better for his development than one inning at the end. Bray has a chance of sticking as a starter if he really thrives in the role, but chances are he'll end up back in the bullpen eventually, where he can be a dominant late-innings guy. As for William & Mary, it is similar to the University of Richmond (which produced Sean Casey and Brian Jordan) in that both are quality academic schools that attract players from the north seeking nicer weather, in addition to players like Bray from the talent-rich Virginia Beach area. The Tribe also has a ballpark that is less than five years old, and head coach Jim Farr is a former big leaguer.

 Q:  Bob from Winthrop asks:
Thanks for the chat and hope you have a happy new year. With cathers always at a premium (see Navorro Dionne) Which catcher has a higher upside, Devin Ivany or Erick San Pedro. Thank you.

Aaron Fitt: Happy New Year to you, too. San Pedro is the better defensive catcher right now with more raw power, although his bat is very questionable at this stage in his career. He projects as an everyday catcher, though, if he refines his hitting ability. Ivany is a bit more advanced offensively right now, but he's more of a line-drive hitter than a future power hitter. Ivany is more athletic behind the plate, with a very good arm, but he eneds to work on his overall game. The Nationals drafted both because they were very thin at catcher going into the draft and needed depth.

 Q:  John from Washington, DC asks:
Hi Aaron, thanks for the great analysis of the Nats' (depleted) farm system. What's the word on Clint Everts? Will we be seeing him in DC in 2006, assuming his recovery from Tommy John surgery goes as planned?

Aaron Fitt: When Everts returns, he should be even better than he has been since he was drafted. His velocity will increase to a level he has not shown since his high school days, and a low-90s fastball to go along with his plus-plus curveball and plus-plus changeup will make him vicious. But 2006 is probably too optimistic a timetable for his arrival. Chances are he'll spend the bulk of '06 in Double-A, maybe get a September callup, and compete for a rotation spot in 2007.

 Q:  thebig747 from Milwaukee asks:
Was the Jose Guillen trade a good deal for the Nationals?

Aaron Fitt: Yes. They gave up Juan Rivera, who had a nice year but is not the offensive player that Guillen is, and Maicer Izturis, who became expendable with the Cristian Guzman signing and will never be a start anyway. If Guillen behaves himself, that deal will work out very well, because he is a .300-30-100 outfielder with a great arm - not a bad player to have around.

 Q:  D. Cornell from Madison, WI asks:
Are the Nationals still high on Rogearvin Bernadina? His name didn't appear on any lists. He had a decent year with Savannah. Is he a Major Leaguer? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: Bernadina remains a longterm project. He still has the most raw talent of any position player in the organization and could still develop into a five-tool center fielder, but he could just as easily flame out in Double-A. Though Bernadina has already played three pro seasons, he's still just 20 years old and he remains inexperienced, having played little baseball growing up in the Netherlands.

 Q:  Ben from Arizona asks:
The Nationals seem high on SS Ian Desmond (3rd)...what is your take on him? Thanks for the time for this chat.

Aaron Fitt: Desmond is young and athletic and very raw. His actions are fluid in the field and he has flashed all the tools at times, including a well-above average arm that can be inaccurate. Desmond is confident and carries himself in a way that evokes Derek Jeter, but he needs to learn how to hit, pure and simple.

 Q:  J Deloney from Dayton, OH asks:
I was thoroughly impressed with the stuff and moxie of LHP A.J. Wideman in Vermont this season. What are the experts within the organization saying about this youngster?

Aaron Fitt: The phrase that invariably comes up when talking about Wideman is "crafty lefty." He is a 19-year-old who logged minimal innings in Ontario before being drafted, but he already has a good idea how to pitch. His fastball tops out in the 88-91 range but his curveball is above average.

 Q:  James from Washington DC asks:
do u think we will see collin balester the # 10 prospect in the majors in 2006 or when will he at least be on the 40 man roster

Aaron Fitt: It's very unlikely Balester will reach the big leagues in 2006, but chances are the Nationals will skip him up to low Class A in 2005, like they did this year with Daryl Thompson, rather than send him to short-season ball and move him slowly, like they did with Hinckley. Balester was very impressive in his 2004 debut in the GCL, and if he develops his secondary stuff he could reach the majors in some capacity by 2007.

 Q:  Simon from Arlington, VA asks:
The last three drafts under Dana Brown it seems like the Nationals take both polished college guys (Cordero, Bray, Broadway, Rasner) and high-ceiling guys (Everts, Thompson, Balester). It seems like they have mixed it up pretty well with the lack of $$$ from ownership. Your thoughts on what they've done?

Aaron Fitt: You pretty much nailed it. Their philosophy is to take a mix of college sure-thing-types and high school upside-types, and Dana Brown has done as well as he possibly could have done given the tight budget. He's also found some nice sleepers, like Duron Legrande (10th round), David Trahan (11), Ben Cox (19) and Chris Lugo (28) from the 04 draft.

 Q:  Chris from Charlotte asks:
How good do you think Michael Hinckley willcan be and do you think he will be in the rotation after the All-Star break in 2005? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: Hinckley looks like a very safe bet to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the majors, but he doesn't project as a No. 1 (Clint Everts is the only potential No. 1 starter in the system). I would guess you will see Hinckley in the rotation some time after the break.

 Q:  Raymond from New York asks:
Hi, Is Josh Karp still considered a legitimate major league pitching prospect ? If so, is he projected as a #3 or #4 ? thanks

Aaron Fitt: Karp still has great stuff, but his stock continues to fall because of his makeup issues. Maybe, like some inside the organization suggest, he's just on a different timetable than everybody else, but he's got to get his head together to be considered a true prospect anymore, particularly after walking away from the team late last season. Karp seems desperate to get to the big leagues, and maybe if he actually gets there he will relax and pitch better than he did in the minors. If that happens, he could be a No. 2 starter, thanks to a 92-93 mph fastball that touches 95-96, a good breaking ball and an even better changeup.

 Q:  Joe from Chantilly, Va asks:
Reading the wroteup on Thompson and Ballister, it seems Ballister is younger, taller, throws harder and had a great start to his career. What does Thompson possess that makes him a better prospect?

Aaron Fitt: Thompson showed a lot of moxie by handling a full season at low Class a at age 18 last year. Like Balester, he is very projectable though he's not as tall. There's a big difference between having a nice debut in the GCL and holding your own in the Sally League as an 18-year-old, and that gives Thompson the edge. His makeup and feel for pitching are remarkable, considering his age. Look for him to get a lot better, quickly.

 Q:  Toby from Tampa, FL asks:
How close was Danny Rueckel to making the top 10. He seemed to put up great numbers for the 2nd straight year. Is it true his curveball is close to an 80 on the 20-80 scale...if so, sounds like a stud reliever in the bigs.

Aaron Fitt: Rueckel, the pride of Furman, was in the 11-15 range. His curveball is, indeed, close to an 80, and most scouts and Nationals people generally agree it's the best in the system, even better than Everts' curve. He looks like he'll be a quality setup man in the majors, as early as this season.

 Q:  Jon from Chicago asks:
What is your opinion on Brendan Harris? I am a Cub fan that was saddened by his trade but understood why. Still I grew fond of him and I'm interested in him because I think he has the chance to be a Craig Biggio type player. What do you think?

Aaron Fitt: I, like my colleague John Manuel, am a believer in Harris. He got temporarily blocked when the Nats signed Vinny Castilla to play third base, but he could easily slide over to second if Jose Vidro is dealt. Biggio is an interesting comparison - their offensive games are somewhat similar, as both are good line-drive hitters with occasional pop, but Biggio has more speed than Harris, and Harris probably has a stronger arm.

 Q:  John from Washington, DC asks:
Aaron, what Nationals minor leaguer to you see having the biggest impact at the majors league level this year?

Aaron Fitt: Good question. Church is ready to be a big leaguer, but it is uncertain where he will play. Guillen and Sledge are locked into the corner outfield positions, and Wilkerson will play center if the Nats keep Nick Johnson at first base. My guess: they do not keep Johnson, they keep Wilkerson at first and play Church in center, although they could also try to get Larry Broadway some playing time at first base. Of course, Hinckley could have more impact than Church or Broadway if he can work his way into the rotation sooner than expected. But to answer your question, I guess I'll go with Church.

 Q:  Steve from Baltimore asks:
He's never been in the NationalsExpos farm system but how does offseason acquisition JJ Davis rate among the Nat prospects?

Aaron Fitt: Davis should fit into the major league outfield mix somehow, probably as a fourth outfielder. He has less upside than Church, who could blossom into a regular, but Davis is a nice power bat to have off the bench.

 Q:  bill from harrisburg, PA asks:
What will the starting rotation for the Senators look like this season. Last year we were dreadful is there any hope that it will get better.

Aaron Fitt: Hinckley and Darrell Rasner will probably both start the year at Harrisburg, giving the Senators a nice 1-2 punch at the front of the rotation. Beyond that it's a little less certain, but you could see Brett Price, more of Jason Stevenson, and perhaps Jon Felfoldi by the All-Star break.

 Q:  David from Savannah, Georgia asks:
I understand the Nationals are taking a look at Hinkley this year for a possible spot in the rotation. I kept up with Everts and him last season and understand he had shoulder problems at the end of the season keeping him out of the AFL. Is he going to be up to par in spring training? Everts of course is out from TJ but I believe Everts has a lot more upside then Hinckley, ie younger, well advance with his off speed and like you said will be something to watch when he comes back. IMO Everts should be in the No. 1 spot has far as prospects go, with Hinkley at the #2 spot, continuing to work on his stuff as long as he stays healthly. David Savannah, Georgia

Aaron Fitt: There are some in the Nationals organization who agree with you there, David. No one questions that Everts has more upside, that he is younger and that his off-speed stuff is better. The only reason he dropped back is because of the Tommy John surgery, and though he will probably come back from that stronger than ever, there are no guarantees. At the least, Hinckley is ahead because he is set to contribute in the majors this season, while you likely won't see Everts in the bigs before late 2006 or 2007.

 Q:  bob from las vegas asks:
who has the higher upside jeff francis or hinckley... also is ryan church now trade bait?

Aaron Fitt: Francis, though I don't think Hinckley is too far behind him. As for Church, he could very well be trade bait, though it is not a given. They could find a spot for him if they move Nick Johnson. Another year at Triple-A would do Church no good, however.

 Q:  Boyd Bragg from Victoria, BC asks:
Hey there Aaron. I would like to know why Daryl Thompson ranks so high and do you think that Kory Casto is potentially our 3rd baseman of the future. I realize that Casto made a ton on errors but most of them came in the first half of the season and his bat does seem to have good potential. Thanks in advance.

Aaron Fitt: I already addressed Thompson, but Casto is an interesting case. He might eventually be better suited to a corner outfield spot, because his bat will play there and he might never be a good defensive third baseman. He works hard at it, however, and made progress after being gunshy for a while early last year when he got hit in the face by a grounder. The Nationals don't dismiss him at third because of his terrific work ethic, but his developing power stroke means he could play at a number of positions.

 Q:  Bob from Oceanside, CA asks:
When is Bowden going to wake up and utilize the talent in the minor leagues? Or can we expect him to purge this system? With Brendan Harris ready for a big league trial, the signing of Castilla makes no sense especially given Vinny's .600 OPS away from Coors. What's he going to do next--trade Hinckley for Tony Clark?

Aaron Fitt: Your frustration is understandable - I agree that it would have made sense to give Harris a shot at the third base job in 2005 rather than sign Castilla. The Nationals wanted to get an established right-handed power bat, though, and wanted to add some veteran presence, so they got Castilla. They still see Harris as a likely utility player behind Castilla and Vidro, though he could also get a few more at-bats in Triple-A. To Bowden's credit, he has not traded any real significant prospects, although Izturis will be a serviceable major league utility player.

 Q:  Dave from GA asks:
What is the ceiling on Edgardo Baez and what does he need to work on to make full use of his raw skills?

Aaron Fitt: Baez is very talented and projects as a power-hitting right fielder with a cannon arm. Like you said, he is raw, and he must improve his pitch recognition and his ability to hit breaking pitches. He also has a hitch in his swing that he needs to work out. The more playing time he gets, the better Baez will be. His manager at Vermont raved about his work habits and potential.

 Q:  Travis from Milwaukee asks:
What is your take on Josh Labandeira and how soon will he be a fixture on the Nats? Will the signing of Christian Guzman effect his progress at all? THanks!

Aaron Fitt: Labandeira will have to prove himself over and over at every level because of his small size, but it's hard to rule out a sparkplug like him. He plays the game extremely hard, he's got a very strong arm and surprising pop in his bat, though he doesn't hit for a great average. I don't think it was ever Washington's plan for Labandeira to be the everyday major league shortstop, and the Guzman signing would definitely ensure that, but he's got a shot of becoming a backup infielder late this season or next year. More likely, Labandeira is a 4-A type.

 Q:  Rob Nixon from Erie, Pa asks:
How does the prospectus look for Shawn Hill this year. Also, is Val Pascucci to old to be considered a prospect?

Aaron Fitt: Shawn Hill had Tommy John surgery late last summer and will be out until at least late 2005. Look for pretty big things from him in 2006, however. Pascucci was sold to Japan.

 Q:  Scott Edwards from Etown PA asks:
Do the Nats have any potential five tool players in the system?

Aaron Fitt: Bernadina's the only true five-tool guy. Church has decent tools across the board, but not overwhelming tools like Bernadina's. Desmond has flashed all five but doesn't really look like a power hitter at this point. Baez doesn't run quite well enough to be considered a five-tool guy.

 Q:  Steve from Los Angeles, CA asks:
Thanks for the chat, so i noticed Josh Whitesell has not been mentioned. He has been tabbed as a power hitter with good skills at first, where does he fit in on the list and where do you see him in the coming years?

Aaron Fitt: Whitesell will sneak into the back portion of the top 30. He had a very nice season at Savannah in 2004, making significant progress defensively after playing mostly DH in college. He's got a lot of raw power and should become a better hitter with more at-bats. He should be the everyday first baseman at high A Potomac in 2005.

 Q:  STAN from ILL asks:
What about RHP Alex Morales? Any other late round sleepers?

Aaron Fitt: Morales took a little step backward last year with his velocity, perhaps because eh started to pitch too much. He's not a very big guy, but he's got quick arm action and throws hard, up to 94 mph, with a decent breaking ball. After his impressive 2003 debut, Morales struggled at times last year at high Class A, but he is still in the Nationals' plans. Look for him to bounce back this season. I mentioned some sleepers earlier, but here's a couple more: Anthony Pearson and Devin Perrin, a couple tall righthanders with good stuff. Keep an eye on them.

 Q:  Tom McCullough from York PA asks:
Thanks for the chats. Is Alejandro Machado a SS prospect or is he at most a backuputility infielder bouncing around from team to team in the major leagues?

Aaron Fitt: Machado's career experienced a bit of a jumpstart when he landed in the Nats organization. He can be a useful player in the majors, either as a regular second baseman in the Rey Sanchez mold or as a utility infielder (also in the Rey Sanchez mold, I suppose). He can play both middle infield spots well but looks a little better at second.

 Q:  dave from chicago asks:
Thanks for doing these chats and taking our questions. What do you see happening with Francis beltran? The nationals seem to be loaded with potential relief pitchers?

Aaron Fitt: The bullpen picture is a bit crowded, but Beltran is definitely part of it. He is a nice righthanded power arm who could be a very good setup man.

 Q:  Dan from Augusta, ME asks:
Where do you think Casto will start the year? Will he jump a level?

Aaron Fitt: He won't jump a level because he still needs an awful lot of work on his defense. He will begin 05 at Potomac.

Aaron Fitt: I'm afraid I only have time for one or two more questions.

 Q:  Jose from Puerto Rico asks:
What are your thoughts, and the organization's, on lefty Gaby Sosa? He did extremely well last season in two different levels. Does he profile more as a starter or reliever?

Aaron Fitt: Sosa didn't put up great numbers at Vermont this year, but he's an intriguing prospect. He's probably tougher on lefthanded hitters than any other pitcher in the organization, he's got a quick breaking ball and a lively fastball, very good pitchability and a bit of a cocky attitude. There is some hope in the organization that Sosa can be a starter, but he's a long way off so it's hard to tell. Because of his small stature, he probably profiles better as a lefty specialist out of the pen.

 Q:  Josh from Irvine, CA asks:
Hi, what kind of major league player can L.Broadway be? Does he have enough power to compete in the Pros? Thanks,

Aaron Fitt: Broadway has very good raw power, and with a few adjustments to his swing he can become a solid everyday first baseman in the majors. I'm in the minority on this, but I think he's an even better prospect than Ryan Howard, particularly because he's an excellent defensive player to along with his offensive potential.

Aaron Fitt: Well that will wrap it up. Thanks, everyone, for your great questions.

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