Top Ten Prospects: Washington Nationals
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Aaron Fitt
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
For the first time since Major League Baseball assumed ownership of the Expos in 2002, the franchise appeared to have some certainty about its future. After years of dragging its feet, MLB announced in September that it was moving the team to Washington, D.C., for the 2005 season. The renamed Nationals finally had a home after two years of splitting home games between Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Not so fast. The deal between MLB and Washington, which called for a publicly funded stadium, began to unravel in December. The D.C. council reneged on that agreement, amending the financing plan to call for at least half the money to come from a private source. MLB abruptly shut down the Nationals’ business and promotional operations. But hold on again. A week later the council, the mayor’s office and MLB reached a compromise, and a divided council narrowly approved it. The new deal allows the city to pay for the ballpark with tax money while searching for private financing, and splits the liability for cost overruns and missed deadlines evenly between the city and MLB.
True stability won’t arrive until the Nationals get a real owner. The team has operated under tight financial restrictions for years, and the Expos were held to a strict draft budget and allowed to have just a skeleton staff, with 11 full-time scouts in 2004.
Considering those handicaps, scouting director Dana Brown has done an admirable job. His first draft in 2002 netted three of the franchise’s Top 10 Prospects in first baseman Larry Broadway and righthanders Clint Everts and Darrell Rasner. Chad Cordero zoomed to the majors after being taken in the first round of the 2003 draft, which also produced righthander Daryl Thompson, third baseman Kory Casto and outfielder Jerry Owens.
It’s too early to tell how the 2004 draft crop will stack up, but lefthander Bill Bray looks like another first-rounder on the fast track. Righthander Collin Balester also has potential, and the organization’s need for catching was addressed with the early selections of Erick San Pedro and Devin Ivany.
Though the club’s draft efforts are encouraging, the reality remains that its farm system is one of the worst in the game. Former general manager Omar Minaya, who bolted for the Mets in October, strip-mined the franchise of most of its top prospects—including Jason Bay, Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore—in a failed 2002 playoff run. Minaya swung a couple of nice trades in 2004 to get Francis Beltran, Ryan Church and Brendan Harris, but the system remains depleted.
Until a real owner buys the team, MLB has appointed former Reds GM Jim Bowden as Minaya’s replacement. Bowden quickly made several aggressive moves, signing free agents Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman to contracts totaling $23 million and trading with the Angels for outfielder Jose Guillen. But with the franchise’s long-term future up in the air yet again, its short-term direction is uncertain as well.
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