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January 23, 2009

Future Shock

Nationals Top 11 Prospects

by Kevin Goldstein

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top 11 prospects

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Four-Star Prospects
1. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
2. Michael Burgess, RF
3. Ross Detwiler, LHP
Three-Star Prospects
4. Derek Norris, C
5. Jack McGeary, LHP
6. Chris Marrero, 1B
7. Destin Hood, LF
8. J.P. Ramirez, OF
9. Esmailyn Gonzalez, SS
Two-Star Prospects
10. Rogearvin Bernadina, CF
11. Adrian Nieto, C

Just Missed: Garrett Mock, RHP; Colton Willems, RHP; Terrell Young, RHP

Before You Ask: Unsigned 2008 first-round pick Aaron Crow would sit atop this list.

Ranking Challenges: Zimmermann, Burgess, and Detwiler are all relatively close to each other in terms of upside, and you could shuffle those names and make a legitimate argument for any of the six possible orders. The same could be said for the fourth- through sixth-ranked players, though McGeary's unique situation (playing baseball half the year while attending Stanford full-time), and wildly varying opinions on Marrero's potential both complicate matters.

1. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
DOB: 5/23/86
Height/Weight: 6-2/200
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2007, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
2008 Stats: 1.65 ERA at High-A (27.1-15-8-31), 3.42 DERA; 3.21 ERA at Double-A (106.2-89-39-103), 4.59 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 8

Year in Review: Thought to be ready for a big step forward by Nationals officials, Zimmermann did not disappoint, dominating at High-A, pitching well at Double-A, and looking as if he'll become a big part of the Nats' future rotation.
The Good: He does nearly everything well, has a strong durable frame, and easy arm action that allows him to deliver fastballs that sit at 90-93 mph while touching 96. He throws two breaking balls, but his slider is the better option-a low-80s pitch with a strong late break. His changeup is solid, and he's fearless with all of his pitches.
The Bad: It's hard to criticize Zimmermann other than to point out that he's not exactly dominant. All of his pitches are good, but he lacks that one knockout offering to project as an upper-tier talent.
Fun Fact: Zimmermann was selected with the compensation pick the Nationals received from the Cubs for the signing of Alfonso Soriano.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be very good third starter.
Glass Half Empty: Most think that's a pretty safe bet, so at worst he should be a fourth or fifth starter.
Path to the Big Leagues: Washington's current big-league rotation elicits little more than giggles.
Timetable: Zimmermann will begin the year at the organization's new Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, but he could be up by mid-season and would immediately become one of their better starters.

2. Michael Burgess, RF
DOB: 10/20/88
Height/Weight: 5-11/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Hillsborough HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .249/.335/.469, .232 EqA at Low-A (112 G); .225/.325/.521, .238 EqA at High-A (19 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 3

Year in Review: Washington's first-round pick in 2007 lived up to expectations in his full-season debut, finishing second in the organization with 24 home runs.
The Good: The way Burgess generates plus-plus raw power despite his smallish stature reminds some of fellow Hillsborough High alum Gary Sheffield, and while he's nowhere near the pure hitter Sheffield is, his bat speed is off the charts and his wrists are almost supernaturally strong. Beyond having the best power in the system, he also has the best outfield arm, a plus-plus cannon with incredible accuracy.
The Bad: While Burgess works the count well, he still needs to harness his approach; his swing is designed for power only, and he rarely shortens up or uses the whole field. He can lapse into using too much of an uppercut as well, leading to an increase in strikeouts, and he's no more than an average runner.
Fun Fact: Beyond Sheffield, Hillsborough High is also famous for having Carl Everett and Dwight Gooden among its alumni, but the school's history includes more than just baseball players, having been attended by five future mayors of Tampa and country music legend Slim Whitman.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a right fielder who hits 30 or more home runs annually.
Glass Half Empty: Too many strikeouts lead to a batting average so low that his power hardly makes up for it.
Path to the Big Leagues: Even though the outfield is one of the few positions where the Nationals have a decent amount of talent, a space will likely be cleared by the time Burgess is ready.
Timetable: He impressed in a late-season advancement to High-A, where he'll begin 2009.

3. Ross Detwiler, LHP
DOB: 3/6/86
Height/Weight: 6-5/185
Bats/Throws: R/L
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2007, Missouri State University
2008 Stats: 4.86 ERA at High-A (124-140-57-114), 7.97 DERA
Last Year's Ranking: 2

Year in Review: Making his major league debut just months after being drafted in 2007, this power lefty began the year at High-A amid great expectations for his ability to deliver, but he never pitched his way out of the Carolina League.
The Good: When he's on, Detwiler has the ability to dominate. His heavy fastball generally sits in the low 90s with explosive late life, and he can ratchet it up to 94-95. His best pitch is a power curveball with biting late break, and he also has a solid changeup. He's a big, promising athlete who fields his position well.
The Bad: Detwiler was absolutely lost at times during 2008 while constantly struggling with his mechanics. He had many outings where his fastball parked at 87-90 mph and he had little or no command, and if you caught him on the wrong day, you'd never believe he was a first-round talent. He did, however, find more consistency during the season's second half.
Fun Fact: He was born and raised in Wentzville, Missouri, known as "The Crossroads Of The Nation" due to its location at the intersection of I-70 and US-61, and as the home of rock'n roll legend Chuck Berry.
Perfect World Projection: His ceiling is higher than Zimmermann's as a potential top-of-the-rotation starter.
Glass Half Empty: If he doesn't figure it out, it won't be pretty.
Path to the Big Leagues: John Lannan is the big-league team's "ace," so yes, they need pitchers.
Timetable: The Nationals are optimistic about what they saw in Detwiler during the latter part of the year, and they think he may be ready for a breakout at Double-A this year.

4. Derek Norris, C
DOB: 2/14/89
Height/Weight: 6-0/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 4th round, 2007, Goddard HS (KS)
2008 Stats: .278/.444/.463 at Short-season (70 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: Fairly obscure as a fourth-round pick who struggled in his pro debut, he exploded in his second shot at short-season ball last year, leading the New York-Penn League in on-base percentage while adding power and improving his defensive skills.
The Good: Norris has all of the tools and skills needed to develop into an All-Star backstop. He has the kind of plate discipline that you cannot teach; the game almost seems to slow down for him when he's at the plate, and he never swings at a bad pitch. His big frame portends solid power, and on defense he combines an accurate plus arm with very quick throwing mechanics, giving him a weapon with which he can shut down any opponent's running game.
The Bad: Norris' swing is a bit long, and he may never hit for a high batting average, as he's often behind good fastballs. He can press at times, especially when behind in the count, and he needs to develop a better two-strike approach. Other than his arm, the rest of his catching game is rough around the edges, and he needs to improve his footwork behind the plate.
Fun Fact: Norris went 12-for-38 (.316) with a whopping 23 walks from the eighth inning on for Vermont.
Perfect World Projection: He's an everyday catcher with on-base skills, power, and defense-a very rare combination for a backstop.
Glass Half Empty: There are walks and defense to be sure, but will the batting average be enough?
Path to the Big Leagues: Jesus Flores is a nice young catcher, but he is not a roadblock.
Timetable: Norris could become a more widely recognized name after his full-season debut in 2009.

5. Jack McGeary, LHP
DOB: 3/19/89
Height/Weight: 6-3/195
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 6th round, 2007, Roxbury Latin HS (MA)
2008 Stats: 4.07 ERA at Rookie-level (59.2-61-13-64); 4.50 ERA at Short-season (4-6-3-5)
Last Year's Ranking: 6

Year in Review: He's a polished teenage left-hander who led the Gulf Coast League in strikeouts after missing the first half of the season while at Stanford.
The Good: Despite his lacking a full-time commitment to the game, McGeary shows remarkable presence on the mound and a knack for getting hitters out. His 88-91 mph fastball plays up due to outstanding location, his curve and changeup are both plus pitches that he'll use at any point in the count, and his makeup and intelligence are both off the charts.
The Bad: McGeary is in no way overpowering as a pitcher, and he was often hittable during his GCL campaign. His commitment to Stanford runs through the next two years, and will certainly hamper his development, at least where its time frame is concerned. The Nationals say they expect him to be available for spring training and ready to make a full-time commitment to baseball, but nothing has been made official; he is well ahead in his studies, and carries up to 20 units per quarter with a 3.5 GPA, which isn't that bad.
Fun Fact: Roxbury Latin was founded in 1645 and is the oldest school in North America. Its alumni list is packed with government officials, Nobel Prize winners, and various other dignitaries, but McGeary is the first baseball player to be drafted out of the school.
Perfect World Projection: He'll make a fine third starter and an outstanding interview.
Glass Half Empty: Two more seasons of half-year availability will slow his development, leaving him well behind the curve.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's hard to say without knowing where his commitment lies; it's up in the air at press time.
Timetable: McGeary will almost certainly make his full-season debut in 2009, but whether that's for 25 starts or 12 has yet to be determined.

6. Chris Marrero, 1B
DOB: 7/2/88
Height/Weight: 6-3/210
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 1st round, 2006, Monsignor Edward Pace HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .250/.325/.453, .221 EqA at High-A (70 G)
Last Year's Ranking: 1

Year in Review: The top prospect entering the year, he got off to a very slow start at High-A, and was just starting to roll before breaking his leg sliding into home plate.
The Good: Marrero still draws praise for his hitting skills; he has an excellent understanding of the strike zone and a quick bat. He makes enough contact to project for a high average while also showing plenty of raw power with natural loft and backspin.
The Bad: Marrero began the year carrying a significant amount of bad weight, and some scouts estimated that he was up to 230 pounds. That changed him from being a below-average runner to a full-fledged base clogger, while also slowing his swing. He worked the weight off during the year, and the Nationals hope that it's a lesson learned. Originally a third baseman who later moved to left field, he's still not a good first baseman due to his poor footwork and hard hands.
Fun Fact: He was a high school teammate of A's infield prospect Adrian Cardenas.
Perfect World Projection: He's your classic big-league first baseman.
Glass Half Empty: That's really his only option, since he's so limited defensively.
Path to the Big Leagues: While Marrero isn't quite there yet, the Nationals have already been shopping Nick Johnson.
Timetable: He's expected to be in shape and fully healthy this spring, and he'll likely begin the year at Double-A Harrisburg.

7. Destin Hood, LF
DOB: 4/3/90
Height/Weight: 6-1/180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Drafted/Signed: 2nd round, 2008, St. Paul's Episcopal HS (AL)
2008 Stats: .256/.333/.349 at Rookie-level (25 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: The Nationals continued to be aggressive in the draft, giving Hood a seven-figure bonus to steer him away from a football scholarship at Alabama.
The Good: In a system short on high-ceiling athletes, drafting Hood was a step towards filling that void. His raw power is above average, and he's a plus-plus runner with silky smooth action both at the plate as well as in the field. Scouts love his makeup, with one noting how rare it is to find such a "max effort, max tools combination."
The Bad: He is unquestionably raw, has very little exposure to pro-caliber pitching, and is seen by many as a project. He's still learning how to play the outfield, and his poor routes combined with poor throwing skills could limit him to left in the end, requiring even more development with the bat if he's to stick.
Fun Fact: Hood hit .297 when batting third, but just .162 out of the clean-up spot, with 37 at-bats in each slot.
Perfect World Projection: He's a dangerous combination of speed and power.
Glass Half Empty: He's too raw, and it just never comes together.
Path to the Big Leagues: The Nationals have a stable of young outfielders, but Hood is so far away that it's hard to see the current crew as much of a roadblock at this time; a lot will change between now and whatever future date that Hood's ready.
Timetable: Hood will be evaluated this spring to see if he's ready for a full-season assignment. There's a significant chance that he'll spend the first half of 2009 in extended spring training before reporting to the New York-Penn League in June.

8. J.P. Ramirez, OF
DOB: 9/29/89
Height/Weight: 5-10/185
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: 15th round, 2008, Canyon HS (TX)
2008 Stats: .364/.533/.364 at Rookie-level (5 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Heading into the draft, Ramirez was seen as unsignable due to his commitment to Tulane, so he dropped to the 15th round; having picked him, the Nationals then surprised many by getting him to sign for a $1 million bonus.
The Good: Ramirez can flat-out hit. He has remarkable bat speed, outstanding hand-eye coordination and advanced hitting instincts that allow him to spray line drives all over the field. He has no weakness, regardless of pitch type or location, and is extremely confident in his abilities.
The Bad: Ramirez has drawn comparisons to A's farmhand Matt Sulentic, another Texas high school product with huge numbers as an amateur and a big bat, but few other tools. Ramirez is on the small side and doesn't have much power potential. At best, he's an average runner with a below-average arm.
Fun Fact: Ramirez was born in New Braunfels, Texas, a suburb of San Antonio that was founded by German immigrants, still holds an annual Wurstfest, and had a German-language newspaper up until World War II.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be a starting outfielder who makes up for his lack of secondary skills with a high batting average.
Glass Half Empty: He'll end up as a bench outfielder who doesn't make up for his lack of secondary skills with a high enough batting average.
Path to the Big Leagues: It's too early to worry about it.
Timetable: Ramirez is ready for a full-season assignment and will begin 2009 in the Sally League.

9. Esmailyn Gonzalez, SS
DOB: 9/21/89
Height/Weight: 5-11/175
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: Dominican Republic, 2006
2008 Stats: .343/.431/.475 at Rookie-level (51 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Just Missed

Year in Review: This big-bonus Dominican rebounded from his poor debut in 2007, and led the Gulf Coast League in batting average.
The Good: Gonzalez has the offensive skills to settle into the second slot in a big-league lineup. He works the count well, and has a quick, quiet swing that is focused on contact but also flashes solid gap power. He has solid defensive fundamentals and makes the plays on the balls that he gets to.
The Bad: Gonzalez leaves many questioning his ultimate position on the field. He has a thick lower half and merely average speed, with most assuming that he'll eventually have to slide across the bag to move over to second base. His power ceiling is limited, he's not much of a threat on the basepaths, and his offensive value lies in his ability to maintain a high on-base percentage.
Fun Fact: Gonzalez is from the Dominican town of San Cristobal, famous for producing big leaguers such as Ervin Santana and Francisco Liriano, and infamous for being the birthplace of former dictator Rafael Trujillo.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an adequate shortstop who makes up for his so-so glove with his bat, or he'll be a decent everyday second baseman.
Glass Half Empty: He's a future utility player.
Path to the Big Leagues: By the time he's ready, the Nationals' roster will be almost completely turned over.
Timetable: Gonzalez will be the everyday shortstop at Low-A Hagerstown in 2009.

10. Rogearvin Bernadina, CF
DOB: 6/12/84
Height/Weight: 6-1/190
Bats/Throws: L/L
Drafted/Signed: Netherlands Antilles, 2001
2008 Stats: .323/.398/.474, .255 EqA at Double-A (73 G); .351/.404/.513, .302 EqA at Triple-A (47 G); .211/.294/.250, .089 EqA at MLB (26 G)
Last Year's Ranking: Not Ranked

Year in Review: He's a toolsy outfielder who finally began to produce, though he struggled in an extended look in The Show.
The Good: Some see Bernadina as a late bloomer; his raw tools have impressed scouts for the past seven years now. He's a plus-plus runner and a threat to steal every time he reaches base, as well as an outstanding center fielder with a plus arm. He has at least average power and has made slow but steady progress with his plate discipline.
The Bad: Bernadina's swing is not now and never has been pretty. It has a bit of a hitch in it, so there's a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, which is only exacerbated by his tendency to greatly expand his strike zone when behind in the count.
Fun Fact: Bernadina hit .404/.452/.614 in 13 games at Triple-A Columbus when batting in the leadoff spot.
Perfect World Projection: He's a second-division starter.
Glass Half Empty: He's a nice bench outfielder who can play all three outfield positions and who runs like the wind.
Path To The Big Leagues: The Nationals may be a second-division team, but they seem set in the outfield for now.
Timetable: Washington will want Bernadina to continue to get regular at-bats, so he'll likely return to Triple-A in 2009 and be called up as needed.

11. Adrian Nieto, C
DOB: 11/12/89
Height/Weight: 6-0/200
Bats/Throws: S/R
Drafted/Signed: 5th round, 2008, American Heritage HS (FL)
2008 Stats: .217/.308/.348 at Rookie-level (8 G)
Last Year's Ranking: N/A

Year in Review: Seen as a potential second-round pick entering the draft, Nieto held out after dropping to the fifth round before finally signing for third-round money.
The Good: Nieto has all of the tools to be a big-league catcher. He's a switch-hitter with above-average power potential from both sides of the plate who generates considerable leverage in his swing from a strong lower half. Defensively, his best tool is a strong arm.
The Bad: Many aspects of Nieto's game need refinement. He's overly aggressive at the plate, swings at too many bad pitches, and is especially susceptible to pitches on the outside corner. His receiving skills are shaky, though he's athletic enough to develop into a good defender.
Fun Fact: Born in Cuba, he came over with his family in a wooden boat in 1993. Before the boat arrived in the United States, it was intercepted by the Coast Guard, forcing Nieto to live at Guantanamo Bay for six months before arriving in Florida.
Perfect World Projection: He'll be an everyday major league catcher, and possibly a very good one.
Glass Half Empty: Plate discipline and defensive issues will hamper his development.
Path to the Big Leagues: For now, his biggest roadblock is the presence of Derek Norris in the same organization and working his way up as well.
Timetable: Nieto will make his full-season debut in 2009 at Low-A Hagerstown.

The Sleeper: An 11th-round pick out of North Carolina State, outfielder Marcus Jones is similar to Bernadina in the sense that the tools are certainly there, but during his college career the performance rarely matched up with them.

Top 10 Talents 25 and Under (as of Opening Day 2009)

1. Lastings Milledge, CF
2. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
3. Elijah Dukes, RF
4. Scott Olsen, LHP
5. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
6. Michael Burgess, RF
7. Ross Detwiler, LHP
8. John Lannan, LHP
9. Derek Norris, C
10. Collin Balester, RHP

The Nationals' system certainly has a lot of young talent, but there's a question as to how good it really is. I took Milledge ahead of Zimmerman on upside. The much-touted third baseman has become one of the more overrated players in the game, and is now just the best player on a very bad team, an outstanding defensive player with a career OPS just above 800-and that's just not a star. Elijah Dukes has more upside than any of them, but at the same time, he is Elijah Dukes. Olsen is a similarly mercurial talent who needs a good deal of extra management. While John Lannan was the best pitcher on the team last year, his ratios will be hard to maintain, while Balester appears to be little more than a back-end rotation piece.

Summary: The Nationals system is definitely improving thanks to some impressive drafting, despite last year's fiasco with Aaron Crow. While the organization should continue placing talent onto the major league roster, there will still be a question of depth and upside, as the system still lacks any true impact players.


Up next: the Baltimore Orioles.

---

Inaugurate another Top 11 list as we talk with Jim Bowden and Mike Rizzo about a stimulus package of prospects the Nationals have coming, as we check in on the Top 11 Prospect Lists at BPR.


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Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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