Live From the AFL: Ryan Zimmerman

You get a lot of attention when you come out of college and end up in the Majors the same year you were drafted. You get even more when you hit nearly .400 with the big league club that year. Ryan Zimmerman is used to the attention, he's used to getting it, and he's used to deserving it, because Ryan Zimmerman was playing college ball this time last year, and for him, the AFL isn't so much a stepping stone, as a path.

Ryan Zimmerman is a top prospect. It's pretty rare that a player continues to remain a prospect even after they've seen time in the bigs, but we'll give Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt. After all, it hasn't even been a year since Zimmerman was a top prospect in the draft.

It's almost unheard of in this day and age for a player to go straight from the draft to the bigs, and Zimmerman is no exception. He spent a whopping two months in the minors before getting the call and heading to Washington D.C. to join the Nationals.

"It's overwhelming in terms of travel," Zimmerman said from Peoria, Arizona, where his Saguaros prepared for Arizona Fall League action, "but it wasn't in terms of the competition. The Nationals wouldn't have brought me up if they didn't think I could compete, and I feel like I did."

Zimmerman, a third baseman taken fourth overall by the Nats in the 2005 draft out of the University of Virginia, might be the most polished player to come out of the draft in a decade.

"He's just so smooth," a scout said after watching Zimmerman, "in the field, at the plate, this is a kid who always looks like he has a plan, and always looks like he's sticking to it."

Part of that plan was some much needed rest. Zimmerman didn't report to the AFL until Wednesday the 19th of October. It wasn't a power play, or some sort of ego move, it was just that Zimmerman needed a rest, and the Nationals agreed.

"I'd just been playing straight through for a long time," Zimmerman said of a season that started this time last year, "and the coaches and instructors all agreed that I could use a couple weeks off."

Now that he's back in the field, it seems that he hasn't missed a beat. After going .326 with nine homers and 32 RBI in just 233 at bats with Double-A Harrisburg, he got only 58 at bats with the Nats but made the most of them, cracking 10 doubles and hitting nearly .400 down the stretch in a pennant race (we won't even worry about his four games at Hi-A, where he hit multiple homers and nearly .500 in 17 at bats), and now in the AFL he picked up his first hit in the first inning of his third game, a game which would eventually see Zimmerman go 5-5 with two runs scored and a RBI. It's been a long year, a tough year, but games like that have made it a fulfilling year for Zimmerman.

"They told me when they drafted me that they were going to push me along, and I was happy about that. I know the Nationals want me to play, and they're willing to give me opportunities. Who doesn't want that?"

Apparently those opportunities aren't stopping any time soon. Zimmerman, who was considered one of the premier defensive third basemen in the minors the minute he was drafted, has started seeing time at shortstop as well. It's not a completely foreign position for him, but it will take some getting used to.

"I played there in high school, but obviously, the game's a lot different at this level."

For now the Nationals have Christian Guzman manning short, but after a year in which Guzman consistently underperformed, and with the ageless Vinny Castilla still an option at third, the Nats may be looking for a way to get Zimmerman into the lineup consistently.

"I've got a lot of work to do before I'm ready at short. But I've got a lot of work to do at third as well. I don't like going out to any position where I don't feel like I'm ready to perform, but that's part of my job now, to be ready."

As for specifics, Zimmerman's focus here is a practical one.

"I think the biggest thing I'm trying to learn down here is how to play when I'm tired. In college you're only playing a couple times a week, and then you've got a couple days to recover, in the pros you're playing more games, more often, and by this time of the season you're going to be tired, but you've still got to perform. Even after the couple weeks off, I'm tired, but I'm learning how to play through that, and continue to be effective."

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