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February 27, 2008

Future Shock

Nationals Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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Five-Star Prospects
1. Chris Marrero, 1B
2. Ross Detwiler, LHP
Four-Star Prospects
3. Michael Burgess, OF
Three-Star Prospects
4. Josh Smoker, LHP
5. Justin Maxwell, OF
6. Jake McGeary, LHP
7. Collin Balester, RHP
Two-Star Prospects
8. Jordan Zimmerman, RHP
9. Jake Smolinski, OF
10. Colton Willems, RHP
11. Adam Carr, RHP

Just Missing: Esmailyn Gonzalez, SS; John Lannan, LHP; Shairon Martis, RHP

1. Chris Marrero, 1B
DOB: 7/2/87
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, Monsignor Pace HS (FL)
2007 Stats: .293/.337/.545 at Low-A (57 G); .259/.338/.431 at High-A (68 G)

Year In Review: After dropping a bit in the 2006 draft due to a a below-expectations senior year, Marrero once again looked like one of the top hitters in his class during an excellent pro debut.
The Good: Offensively, Marrero does it all and makes it look easy. He has outstanding pitch recognition for such a young player, and a liquid-smooth swing than provides good contact and plus-plus power to all fields, along with the projection to hit .280-.300 annually with 30+ home runs. Team officials are quick to point to his outstanding work ethic, and scouts noted the continuous improvement he made throughout the year.
The Bad: Marrero is already out of defensive options less than two years after being drafted. A third baseman in high school, the Nationals tried to move him to a corner outfield slot in 2007, and while the effort was there, his below-average athleticism limited his range, and he was moved to first base in the offseason, which wastes his good arm somewhat. He's a slow runner, but not a complete base-clogger.
Fun Fact: While it's not an overly-friendly hitter's park, Marrero hit .398/.430/.778 in home games for Low-A Hagerstown, and just .193/.246/.325 in Sally League road games.
Perfect World Projection: An impact middle-of-the-order run producer.
Timetable: Marrero's progress in 2007 could result in a Double-A assignment to begin this season, lining him up for a shot at a big-league job the following year.

2. Ross Detwiler, LHP
DOB: 3/6/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/185
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Missouri State
2007 Stats: 2.25 ERA at Rookie-level (12-11-3-15); 4.22 ERA at High-A (21-27-9-13); 0.00 ERA at MLB (1-0-0-1)

Year In Review: The big college lefty put himself on the map with his first start of the year in front of a handful of scouting directors, and never slowed down from there. The Nationals were pleasantly shocked to see him still on the board at sixth overall in the draft.
The Good: Detwiler has power stuff and still has some projection left in his long, skinny frame. His fastball sits at 92-94 mph, and touches 96 while featuring good life, and his power curveball gives him a second plus pitch. His changeup is at least average now, and has made enough progress over the last two years to project as plus. He has clean mechanics and easy arm action, as well as very good command.
The Bad: Most concerns about Detwiler are about his frame. While he maintained his stuff deep into games continuously in college, He's skinny to a fault, leaving many to wonder if he'll be able to handle a workload of 30+ starts and 200+ innings annually. He still has a tendency to float his changeup at times.
Fun Fact: Detwiler's hometown is Wentzville, Missouri, the home of guitar legend Chuck Berry.
Perfect World Projection: A star-level major league starter.
Timetable: Detwiler already has one inning of big-league experience, and it shouldn't take much longer for him to get more. He'll begin the year in Double-A, and will likely need no further minor league seasoning after this year.

3. Michael Burgess, OF
DOB: 10/20/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Hillsborough HS (FL)
2007 Stats: .336/.442/.617 at Rookie-level (36 G); .286/.383/.457 at Short-season (19 G)

Year In Review: Somewhat similar to Marrero in that he went into the season as one of the top high school hitters in the draft, only to drop out of the first round, Burgess signed quickly and went on to lead the Gulf Coast League in both on-base percentage and slugging.
The Good: Burgess has massive raw power thanks to tremendous bat speed and extremely strong wrists. His swing path has a natural uppercut that generates plenty of loft and backswing, and his plate discipline is advanced for his age. He's a solid outfielder with more than enough arm for right field.
The Bad: Burgess openly showed his frustration in high school when opposing teams refused to give him anything to hit, but that should be far less of an issue in the pros. His pure power approach will always lead to a high strikeout rate. He needs to improve his jumps and routes in the outfield, though he should end up being fine there. He turned off some teams last spring by appearing aloof during pre-draft interviews.
Fun Fact: Dean Palmer (275) and Greg Norton (82) are the only 49th-overall draft picks with more than 30 career big-league home runs.
Perfect World Projection: A classic slugger who might not hit for much of an average, but will more than make up for it with plenty of walks and power.
Timetable: Burgess will look to build on his eye-popping pro debut with a full-season assignment at Low-A.

4. Josh Smoker, LHP
DOB: 11/26/88
Height/Weight: 6-2/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 1st round, 2007, Calhoun HS (GA)
2007 Stats: 4.50 ERA at Short-season (4-2-3-5)

Year In Review: One of the top high school lefties slipped out of the first round by one pick, but signed late for true first-round money ($1 million).
The Good: Smoker's athleticism and arm speed make for a very high ceiling. He generally sits in the low 90s now and can hit 95 when he dials it up, and both his curveball and changeup show promise. He's an excellent athlete with good mechanics and a smooth delivery that he repeats well. His makeup also earns high praise.
The Bad: The velocity of Smoker's fastball ranged widely last spring, and one could accurately call it an 87-94 mph pitch, depending on the day it was seen. Both of his off-speed offerings need considerable improvement, and he has a tendency to simply abandon them when he loses feel. Like his secondary pitches, his command can also come and go.
Fun Fact: During his brief pro debut, right-handed batters facing Smoker went 1-for-9 with five strikeouts.
Perfect World Projection: Smoker's ceiling is as at least a number three starter, but he does have a significant gap between what he is now and what he can be.
Timetable: Smoker will be one of many very interesting prospects at Washington's Low-A affiliate in 2008.

5. Justin Maxwell, OF
DOB: 11/6/83
Height/Weight: 6-5/225
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 4th round, 2005, University of Maryland
2007 Stats: .301/.389/.579 at Low-A (56 G); .263/.338/.491 at High-A (58 G); .269/.296/.500 at MLB (15 G)

Year In Review: Healthy for the first time in years, this outstanding tools player finally took the long-predicted step forward with 27 home runs and 35 stolen bases in 114 minor league games, and then hit two more bombs in his big-league debut.
The Good: Few prospects can match Maxwell's combination of size and athleticism. He provides an intimidating presence at the plate while also showcasing plus power, plus speed, and solid plate discipline. He has enough range to play center at the big league level, and he has a high level of baseball intelligence, with good instincts both in the field and on the basepaths.
The Bad: Maxwell's long injury history will remain a bit of a red flag until he can put together back-to-back healthy seasons, and with all the time missed he has far less experience that most players his age. His swing is a bit long, with a noticeable trigger, and is combined with a bit of a loopy uppercut, so Maxwell will always rack up plenty of strikeouts.
Fun Fact: While Maxwell attended Maryland in part for its athletic program, he was also an excellent student in high school, earning a 4.0 GPA; he could have attended Harvard, but picked Maryland.
Perfect World Projection: A power/speed center fielder with enough secondary skills to make up for his swing-and-miss tendencies.
Timetable: Like Marrero, Maxwell has lined himself up for a potential 2009 starting job, and will begin trying to claim that spot in 2008 at Double-A.

6. Jack McGeary, LHP
DOB: 3/19/89
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted: 6th round, 2007, Roxbury Latin HS (MA)
2007 Stats: 13.50 ERA at Short-season (2.2-3-5-4)

Year In Review: One of the top left-handers in the draft was considered unsignable because of a commitment to Stanford, but a $1.8 million bonus that still allows him to be a full-time student was too good for him to pass up.
The Good: McGeary has the poise and command of a big-league veteran, pounding the strike zone with an average-velocity fastball that should gain a couple of ticks as he grows into his body. His best pitch is a plus-plus curveball with massive downward break that he's equally comfortable dropping into the strike zone or using as a chase pitch. He's a highly intelligent player with a lot of inner drive to improve.
The Bad: Many teams felt McGeary's price tag was far too high for a pitcher who isn't especially dominant. His contract stipulates that he's only committed to the Nationals for three summer months a year until 2011, so he'll develop slower than most draftees.
Fun Fact: McGeary's alma matter, Roxbury Latin, was founded in 1645 and is the oldest school in North America.
Perfect World Projection: McGeary has the potential to be an above-average big league starter, but his college commitment makes it difficult to figure out how long it will take to reach it.
Timetable: McGeary's school schedule will only allow for a couple months of starts in 2008, likely in the New York-Penn League.

7. Colin Balester, RHP
DOB: 6/6/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/190
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 4th round, 2004, Huntington Beach HS (CA)
2007 Stats: 3.74 ERA at Double-A (98.2-103-25-77); 4.18 ERA at Triple-A (51.2-49-23-40)

Year In Review: The most advanced pitcher in the system, Balester had a solid but unspectacular showing in the upper levels of the Nationals system.
The Good: Balester's greatest strength is his lack of any glaring weakness. He has a big body, clean mechanics, and his fastball sits consistently in the 90-94 range, which he also commands well. His plus curveball has heavy late break and is his best pitch, and he also has a decent changeup.
The Bad: Balester's biggest weakness is his lack of any obvious strength. He doesn't have any plus-plus offerings, and is often quite hittable, as his fastball doesn't have a lot of movement. His changeup is his weakest pitch, leaving him susceptible to left-handed hitters at times.
Fun Fact: No pitcher drafted out of Huntington Beach High--the same school that graduated Angels prospect Hank Conger, one-time Orioles prospect Howie Clark, and 1970s Indians shortstop Jack Brohamer--has reached the majors (and there have been eight selected).
Perfect World Projection: A mid-rotation innings-eater.
Timetable: Balester will likely begin the season at Triple-A, but should reach the big leagues at some point in 2008.

8. Jordan Zimmerman, RHP
DOB: 5/23/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2007, Wisconsin-Stevens Point
2007 Stats: 2.38 ERA at Short-season (53-45-18-71)

Year In Review: A rare pitching prospect from the upper Midwest, Zimmerman looked better than expected during his pro debut.
The Good: Zimmerman's top pitch is a low-90s fastball that generates a lot of groundballs because of his ability to work in the lower half of the strike zone, as well as the natural sinking action he gets on the pitch. He also effectively mixes in a plus curveball and improving change, and his bulky build suggests the potential for plenty of stamina.
The Bad: Because of where he played, Zimmerman's secondary stuff and feel for pitching are a tick below average for his age. He still flattens his curveball too often, and his changeup needs more deception.
Fun Fact: In seven home games for Vermont of the New York-Penn League, Zimmerman fired 31 scoreless innings, allowing just 14 hits and striking out 45.
Perfect World Projection: A solid big-league starter.
Timetable: Depending on how the numbers game works out in spring training, Zimmerman will begin the year at one of Washington's full-season A-ball affiliates.

9. Jake Smolinski, OF
DOB: 2/9/89
Height/Weight: 5-11/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 2nd round, 2007, Boylan Catholic HS (IL)
2007 Stats: .305/.387/.410 at Rookie-level (28 G)

Year In Review: One of the top high school bats in the Midwest, Smolinski made impressive transition to wood bats and professional baseball in his debut.
The Good: Smolinski's hitting skills are highly advanced for a teenager. He works the count well, and has a quick bat, smooth swing mechanics, and gap power. Moved from the infield to the outfield immediately after signing, he took well to an outfield corner and should be a good defender there in the long run. He's a maximum-effort player who gets the most out of his tools.
The Bad: Smolinski is seen by some as a bit of a tweener, because his athleticism (or lack thereof) limits him to left field, and many wonder if he has enough power to play there in the big leagues on an everyday basis. Right-handers found some success in getting him to chase breaking balls in the Gulf Coast League.
Fun Fact: In just seven games against the GCL Dodgers, Smolinski went 10-for-26 with three of his eight doubles and his only home run of the year.
Perfect World Projection: An outfielder with middling power who hits for a high average and has a high OBP.
Timetable: Smolinski is yet another Washington prospect to watch at Low-A in 2008.

10. Colton Willems, RHP
DOB: 7/3/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/175
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 1st round, 2006, John Carroll HS (FL)
2007 Stats: 1.84 ERA at Short-season (58.2-55-26-31)

Year In Review: A first-round pick from 2006, Willems spent his second season in short-season leagues and was highly inconsistent, but looked very good when he was on.
The Good: Willems is a raw product with plenty of promise. His fastball sits in the low 90s and has a bit of sink, but team officials think that the 95-96 mph heat he shows on occasion will become a more regular occurrence as he finds more consistency. He gets good spin and shape on a loopy curveball and has begun to show some feel for a changeup as well.
The Bad: Willems doesn't miss as many bats as one would expect based on his stuff, mostly because of an over-reliance on his fastball as a result of inconsistent secondary offerings. His mechanics continue to need some smoothing out, as an inconsistent release point has led to control problems throughout his career.
Fun Fact: While John Carroll High has produced 12 draft picks since 1991, only Danny Klassen reached the big leagues out of that group.
Perfect World Projection: Scouts are highly mixed on Willems, but those that dream about him see star potential.
Timetable: Yup, that squad at Low-A Hagerstown sure will be interesting.

11. Adam Carr, RHP
DOB: 4/1/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/185
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted: 18th round, 2006, Oklahoma State
2007 Stats: 1.81 ERA at High-A (49.2-30-38-65); 1.64 ERA at Double-A (11-7-9-13)

Year In Review: A slugger who rarely pitched in college, Carr is now the top relief prospect in the system after a dominant 2007 campaign in which he limited opposing batters to a .175 batting average while striking out 11.6 per nine innings.
The Good: Carr has the stuff and demeanor to pitch at the end of ballgames. His fastball sits at 93-95 mph, touches 97 with regularity, and features good movement, while his slider is another power offering that grades as plus because of its strong two-plane break. He's an aggressive competitor who shows no fear on the mound, and he seems to downright enjoy backing hitters off the plate with inside pitches.
The Bad: While Carr's mechanics provide some deception, they're also quite violent, and he quite simply needs to throw more strikes in order to be trusted in the big leagues. He can overthrow at times, leading to even more control problems.
Fun Fact: Carr was drafted three times as an amateur--first by the Blue Jays in 2002 out of high school (41st round), and then by the Mets in 2003 (30th round) after a year of junior college before the Nationals took him.
Perfect World Projection: An intimidating late-inning reliever.
Timetable: Carr will begin the year back at Double-A, with how often he throws strikes determining how quickly he reaches the big leagues.

The Sleeper: Once a good prospect in the Arizona system who has fallen off the radar of late, right-hander Garrett Mock had a 5.12 ERA in the Washington system last year, but earned some good reviews with a nice showing in the Arizona Fall League.

The Big Picture: Rankings Combined With Non-Rookies Under 25 (As Of Opening Day 2008)

1. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
2. Lastings Milledge, OF
3. Chris Marrero, 1B
4. Ross Detwiler, LHP
5. Elijah Dukes, OF
6. Michael Burgess, OF
7. Josh Smoker, LHP
8. Justin Maxwell, OF
9. Matt Chico, LHP
10. Jake McGeary, LHP

Zimmerman is a fantastic defender whose overall offensive contribution is a bit overrated, so while he's the best hitter on a bad team, he would probably bat no higher than sixth on a championship-level club. Milledge and Dukes are both players with incredible upside, but Dukes' inability to deal with other members of the human race means one has to be somewhat cautious in harboring any future hopes for him. Chico led the team in innings last year, but he's no more than a back-of-the-rotation type. Catcher Jesus Flores would rank 11th on this list, because while he has some promise, many scouts have trouble seeing him as more than a backup.

The Nationals are in a rebuilding mode, but some good trades, along with some highly intriguing drafts, have brought a number of good prospects to a once-moribund system. While there's much work to be one on the Nats' future, things are definitely looking up.

Next: Another round of cleanup, followed by organizational rankings.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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