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Top Ten Prospects: Washington Nationals
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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, 2006.
The Nationals’ first season in Washington was a success, as the team staged a surprising playoff run and finished .500 despite being the majors’ lowest-scoring club. The struggles of free-agent acquisitions Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman contributed to the Nationals’ offensive woes, though a trade for outfielder Jose Guillen worked out well. The team’s strength was its pitching staff, which finished with the ninth-best ERA in baseball, thanks largely to a terrific bullpen and the emergence of John Patterson in the rotation.
But while the Nationals came together on the field, their front-office future took longer to materialize. By the end of the season, there still was no new ownership group in place. MLB still controls the club and it’s uncertain how long the appointed general manager, Jim Bowden, will remain with Washington, though he was given a six-month extension with a new ownership group pending. The Nationals also will have to wait until 2008 for a planned $440 million ballpark to be completed, leaving them in RFK Stadium for two more seasons.
Bowden dismissed farm director Adam Wogan on Oct. 17 and named vice president of ballpark operations Andy Dunn interim farm director. Wogan’s firing came after another difficult year for Nationals affiliates, who combined for a .438 winning percentage. The system’s top two prospects entering the year, lefthander Mike Hinckley and first baseman Larry Broadway, suffered from injuries and confidence problems.
Washington tried to reinstitute its instructional league program for the first time in five years, planning on holding it at special assistant to the GM Jose Rijo’s complex in the Dominican Republic. But construction on the hotel where the players were to have stayed was behind schedule, and the program was scrapped without the players ever getting on the field.
There was some good news, however. The big league club got some help from the top of the farm system, as Ryan Church emerged in the outfield and Gary Majewski was a revelation out of the bullpen. Prospects like Collin Balester, Ian Desmond, Armando Galarraga, Kory Casto and Frank Diaz had breakout years. And of course, first-round pick Ryan Zimmerman zoomed to the majors.
The Guzman and Castilla signings deprived the club of its second- and third-round picks, so scouting director Dana Brown tried to make up for it by drafting high-upside outfielders Justin Maxwell and Ryan DeLaughter in the fourth and fifth rounds before bolstering the organization’s pitching depth with college arms. The returns on Brown’s recent drafts have been encouraging, particularly given the lack of resources at his disposal under the tight fiscal restraints imposed by MLB ownership when the franchise was in Montreal. But Brown—who received a one-year contract extension—and his scouts still have managed to find talent, signing All-Star closer Chad Cordero and eight of the players on this Top 10 list in his four years with the team.
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